In the recently published MIT SMR- and Deloitte-authored report on digital business, “Aligning for a Digital Future,” we emphasized the importance of attracting and retaining the right talent to compete in an increasingly digital business environment. In order to better understand these trends, we spoke with Professor Prasanna Tambe at NYU’s Stern School of Business about some of the current myths involving digital talent.
One misconception is that all jobs are becoming more digital. In our conversation, Tambe noted that it’s a bit of an open research question as to how many jobs are going to become more technical. At the same time that digital technologies are becoming more critical to business, they are also becoming consumerized. In a sense, employees don’t need many technical skills to work with many new, emerging analysis tools. Users can “drag and drop” and the analytics platforms themselves are going to be able to do much of the analysis for them. “I think it’s an interesting open question about whether or not people in sales or accounting, for example,” Tambe told me, “are actually going to need to have technical skills even if they directly work with data.”
This question remains open because of two competing forces. First, the pace of technological progress is not slowing down; there’s little doubt that the business world is becoming more digital. Second, the infrastructures that we use these days require not only technology skills, but a blend of capabilities like statistics and domain expertise. It’s not yet clear what the right blend of skills will be for future workers. Universities and companies face a very large dilemma about how to educate and train not only the people who are currently in degree programs, but also those who are already in the workforce.
Another misconception is the need for digital skills moving forward. There is a sense that the growth of technical work may actually be amplifying the importance of the “soft” skills — such as effective communication and collaboration — and those sentiments are increasingly echoed by employers. It’s not enough to just know SQL; successful technical workers also need to understand organizations and teams well enough to move forward once they have a data solution in place.