When it comes to language, fluency is more powerful than literacy. With the latter, you understand the basics of speech and reading. But with the former you can use language to create something new, such as a poem or novel. So too with digital skills. Basic literacy may enable someone to use a given application or device, but digital fluency unlocks the full potential of your workforce to use technology to drive exponential transformation.

A recent Accenture report unpacks this idea of digital fluency. The report demonstrates that when a company has the right digital foundations, technology quotient (i.e., workforce enthusiasm, skills and value across digital), digital operations and digital leadership, it thrives. Globally, these digitally fluent companies are 2.7% more likely to have experienced high revenue growth over the past three years than their peers. 

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The fluency imperative

When it comes to businesses in Asia Pacific, achieving digital fluency has never been more important. In fact, it’s now an imperative. This is largely the result of COVID-19.

The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in the region. Faced with the need to protect staff, businesses have adopted technologies like cloud computing, virtualization and analytics to maintain business as usual. This has had a huge impact on how people work. For instance, our research shows that prior to the pandemic just 11% of workers in Asia Pacific frequently worked from home. That compared to an astonishing 78% today.

But while a necessary condition for business survival in the midst of COVID-19, technology alone isn’t sufficient. Workers need to be able to use the technology effectively for the organization to benefit. This is not always the case. Relatively few workers in Asia Pacific say that they’re recognized for their skills in crucial digital technologies such as digital collaboration tools (44%), cloud computing technology (31%), applied intelligence (26%) or cyber security (21%). Businesses that can instill fluency against these skills will be best placed to make the most of the opportunities afforded by new ways of working.

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Many organizations in the Asia Pacific region view the digital skilling of workers as a corporate social responsibility.

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Tackling digital fluency

As the digital revolution unfolds, becoming fluent in these skills will be crucial for workers and the businesses that depend on them. From my work with clients in the region, it’s great to see that many organizations view the digital skilling of workers as a corporate social responsibility. The pandemic has disrupted a range of industries and will lead to long-term job losses in many. Business leaders see it as their obligation to the communities in which they operate to help reskill people who have lost jobs so they can more easily find work in the new digital-first economy that’s emerging.

Given the huge variety of industries in Asia Pacific, and the differing infrastructures from country to country, the pace of digital skilling has traditionally lagged North America and Europe, but it’s fast catching up. The recent acceleration of digital transformation in the region is only going to help.

There are a range of things that businesses can do to help make their people digitally fluent, and our report goes into some detail on these. But for businesses in Asia Pacific, I think there are three that are particularly pertinent:

  • Articulate your digital foundation. Working with the C-Suite, there’s a role for Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) to help communicate the company’s digital strategy. Senior leaders need to be part of the reskilling journey and show all workers how digital will add value to their roles. It’s an approach we took for a digital fluency program for an Australian mining company and it found it was much better able to win enthusiasm from its workers by having the leadership integrally involved in the project. What we’ve found is that leaders need to start by increasing their own technology quotient. Only by becoming digitally fluent themselves will leaders be able to build digitally enabled teams across the enterprise.
  • Create a systemic program. It takes time to learn a new language – and that learning never stops because language evolves continually. So too with digital fluency. CHROs need to view digital fluency as an ever-present imperative that will require ongoing reskilling. By creating a systemic program, business can ensure that they can operate at the cutting edge of technology and that their people’s skills remain current.
  • Digitally transform training. Teaching digital skills in an analogue format is like asking someone to learn a language without having them speak it. We’ve found that using technology as part of the skilling program helps people learn and reinforces the skills you are aiming to impart. For example, we rolled out a digital fluency programme for a regional energy company across workers’ mobile devices using gamified, bite-sized learning modules. The approach was far stickier than traditional approached to learning and more effective.

Just over a year ago, firms in the region could still legitimately consider digital transformation as a medium-term consideration. Not so today. COVID has in the space of a year made pretty much every business in the region a digital-first business. Organizations that take their people with them on this journey and make them digitally fluent will find that in the long term they’re able to extract more value from their investments.

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See more Workforce insights.

Gastón Carrión

Managing Director – APAC Talent & Organization/Human Potential Lead

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