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Digital transformation: the need for a new skills mindset

Author: ICAEW

Published: 11 Aug 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked digital practices and more organisations are exploring how to accelerate their transformation. Learning and development need to be part of that conversation to make it work.

Digital transformation in the finance function has changed a lot over the past five years. It used to be a fairly linear process with fixed steps along the way. Now it’s much more complicated and unique to each organisation, depending on the level of ambition and investment in available technologies and new ways of working.

“In the finance function, technology has come on leaps and bounds, which means that it is able to deliver against a digital vision and enable that digital mindset,” says David Anderson, partner and digital finance transformation specialist at Deloitte. “Whereas in the past, the technology would have hampered some of that ambition.”

Technology allows finance teams to explore many new possibilities. However, those organisations that successfully implement digital transformation look more at changing the digital mindset of its people, developing its culture, and reskilling its workforce to focus more on adding value to the organisation.

“If your people aren’t on the journey with you, any transformation project won’t take. Finance leaders should focus their efforts on educating their people about the benefits, and providing them with the skills to do more”, says Anderson. “For example, if an invoices and payments clerk hears leadership saying: ‘part of our vision is to automate the current payments process’, all they would hear from that is: ‘I might lose my job’.

“There's a real opportunity here to elevate the role into something where you're adding more value to the business and that means more growth opportunities for everyone in the team”

Finance leaders should invest in development programmes to help their people understand more about the changes and gain new skills to help them find a new place within the transformed team. This will create much better results than if transformation is used merely as a way to reduce headcount.

Anderson helped to create Finance in the Digital World for ICAEW; a learning and development tool to help members get started in understanding the new skillset that accounting and finance professionals need.

“I wanted to build understanding and awareness across the profession for some of these technology changes and their impact on people in the workplace and how we work,” he explains. “There is an equal balance in that learning and development curriculum between the technology enablers and the people aspects of it. That's something I'm really passionate about.”

One of the crucial changes that Anderson believes needs to happen is the focus on technical excellence above all else. This starts during people’s education and continues throughout their career. However, in a post-transformation world, problem-solving skills, creativity and challenging norms, among other things, are much more valuable.

“For me, the biggest challenge for finance is how do you bring some of those capabilities and a digital mindset into the team?” says Anderson. “It's partly about the team dynamic, but even with things like recruitment, you can start looking at focusing more on attributes and behaviours.”

That’s not to say that technical skills are completely gone – new technical skills around data management and machine learning will develop as time goes on. “I can almost see a new specialism coming through in the finance profession around these areas. They can be really key for being successful in finance going forwards.”

Overall, cultivating curiosity within your team is an important first step in making sure any digital transformation sticks. “If you've got a leadership team with a strong vision, but nobody else knows how to embrace it or deliver against it, then it just isn't going to happen,” says Anderson. “You've got to encourage everybody in the organisation to be curious and seek a base level of understanding and awareness of some of these topics. If you do that, you'll see a big acceleration as a result of that digital transformation.”