Digital Ecosystems: Good News for Training

| By TMA World


“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too),  those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Charles Darwin

As a hunter-gatherer, I would have collaborated with you for our mutual benefit: survival (‘you’ probably being a member of my family group).  After millennia, we are still collaborators because we know we can achieve more together than we can apart.  We collaborate not just to make work easier, but to create the magic of innovation by building on one another’s ideas.

I know that my brain demonstrates its rootedness in hunter-gatherer instincts on a daily basis and too often reveals its inadequacy in understanding the world of our own making.  In two hundred years or so, we have gone from the horse and carriage to missions to Mars; from writing letters with pen, paper, and ink (which could take months to deliver) to instantaneous communication between continents; from massive libraries of books to the Internet; from local exchange of goods to global trade.  And there is so much more!

César Hidalgo, a physicist at MIT, coined the term personbyte to describe the amount of knowledge that one person can reasonably know; who among us has a personbyte large enough for knowing our world?  Unless there is a global catastrophe of mega proportions, we will continue to whoosh down the rapids of complexity.  The only way to survive now is to become mega-collaborators.      

To be competitive in a complex and chaotic business environment, business organizations have had to adapt.  Bureaucratic and hierarchical organizational structures still exist (and probably will continue to do so in some form), but they are often too slow and cumbersome in identifying and pursuing today’s market opportunities.  They also have a difficult time leveraging the distributed talent within them.  To gain greater agility, organizations now utilize more fluid collaborative team structures – formal and informal, functional and matrixed, face-to-face and virtual teams have become the productive engines of business.
The landscape in which teams have operated has been predominately intra-organizational and sometimes inter-organizational, but the landscape is changing.  In the latter part of the 1990’s and early 2000’s the Extended Enterprise concept was introduced to describe the landscape of value chain collaboration.  Partners, customers, employees and others were included in a relatively linear, end-to-end value chain. 

Collaboration technologies have made a huge impact and we now up the complexity stakes with business ecosystems; these include many more players in a largely non-linear collaboration landscape: employees and the freelance workforce, suppliers, distributors and publishers, customers, competitors, partners, government agencies, universities, swarms, crowds, and communities.  Garry Hamel said, “Companies that win are going to be the ones that are the most creative in harnessing and leveraging the skills and talents of interested outsiders.”  This shift demands new business strategies including people strategies. 

One of the champions of the business ecosystem concept in a digital age is Accenture (see bottom of article for web link).  According to Accenture, companies need to develop “more agile ways of working across ecosystems composed of looser, partner-based collaboration.”  Digital ecosystems will have a significant impact on how companies think about their culture and people.  High-performing companies “will create new corporate cultures that use technology to enable people to constantly adapt and learn, create new solutions, drive change and disrupt the status quo.”  Too much focus on technology will not be enough to transform organizations: people and culture are the keys.

According to Accenture, there are four pillars upon which a digital culture must be built:

• Building for Change – agile methodologies, platforms for collaboration
• Being Data-Driven – pervasive data to support insight-driven decision-making
• Embracing Disruption – predictive analytics to understand emerging needs that drive disruption
• Being Digitally Risk Aware – building digital trust through digital ethics

On the people-side, organizations need to build continuous, embedded training as a core organizational competency in order to develop and rapidly assemble the right skills.  In researching their report, Accenture found, “Already, 37 percent of business and IT executives we surveyed report that the need to train their workforce is significantly more important today compared to three years ago.”  This is at the same time that 38 percent of businesses globally are struggling to find the right talent.  The need is not just for IT and data skills, but relationship development and cross-cultural empathy. 

Businesses are investing in digital training platforms that combine enterprise/vendor developed learning along with MOOCs into one curriculum.  Some companies like Citibank and Unilever are working with organizations like the non-profit LaunchCode to develop IT skills and set up paid apprenticeships.  They are also using the computer programing coding bootcamp General Assembly for rapid skill development.

One company that takes full advantage of its ecosystem is Apple.  The iOS App Store launched in 2008 has an ecosystem of approximately 380,000 developers.  They have developed 1.5 million apps that have been downloaded over 100 billion times generating $33 billion in sales in 2015.
As we tumble down the rapids of volatility and complexity, we must continually assess our knowledge and skill gaps.  Some think Millennials are the answer to the type of skill shortages we face, but Accenture also found that 53 percent of business leaders are finding it difficult to attract and retain millennial talent.  But that’s not all!  Twenty-eight percent of executives believe technology will change at an ‘unprecedented rate’ over the next three years, and 58 percent said it would increase rapidly.  Even the Millennials might have trouble keeping their technological personbyte up to speed!

Accenture Technology Vision 2016


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