Why Every Company Should Offer Digital Skills Training

By Dr. Roti Balogun Global Head, Organization & Talent Development GE Power Headquarters

Digital disruption is challenging the way we live, the way we work, the way we learn, all over the world and particularly in Africa. By 2050 the world top countries with the youngest working population will be on the continent. Rethinking education in Africa is therefore paramount in developing the next generation of leaders to succeed in this transformative digital age

But first, why did we at GE have to transform? Why do we think other industrials or companies playing in this digital era need to transform? In our business, we have the privilege of working with customers across virtually all industrial markets. While each company faces its own disruptive forces – be it the uberization of traditional markets, or an aging workforce, we’re seeing a confluence of changing customer behaviors, and workforce trends that are creating an inflection point across the industrial world. For GE, we’ve moved from a stance of defending our traditional infrastructure service contracts, to viewing the Industrial Internet as an opportunity to improve the overall competitiveness of the company – from internal productivity to entering new markets. 

GE’s strategy is straightforward. To be the Digital Industrial leader.  To do that, we quickly acknowledged the need to understand what “Digital” means and put into motion, transformative work to define what “Digital Industrial” will become.

First, we realized the need to build a new set of digital skills and transform our culture internally to drive internal productivity and costs improvements… we call this GE for GE

Next, with these learnings, new innovations, and capabilities, we develop a set of industrial applications and advanced digital skills that help our customers transform too… we call this GE for Customers

And then, we democratize digital skills to make our Predix Industrial Internet cloud platform available to everyone for co-creation & innovation across all industrial categories… we call this GE for the World

Now transformation in any company is complex and GE is no different. It requires change across people, process, and technology. To accomplish this transformation at scale, particularly at GE in Africa, I share our approach to tackle this challenges across the three main strategic focus areas 

1. GE for GE: Enabling Digital Leadership & Mindsets: 

At the heart of being a digital leader and enabling actions which promote the desired behaviors, is an understanding of where each GE employee is as a 21st Century Human in a 21st Century organization. To achieve this, we launched a Digital IQ assessment (developed by the Leading-Edge Forum and adopted by GE globally) for a sub-section of employees, which was based on research that has shown that we have sleepwalked into the 21st Century with outdated business models, organization structures, talent, strategies, leadership styles and infrastructures. The imperative therefore was to reinvent all aspects of GE to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. The assessment looked at 7 key factors in being ‘digitally-fit’. 

These were 

  1. Our abilities to listen and learn effectively
  2. Our appetite to upgrade digital tools and abilities
  3. Our sense to develop a personal brand and purpose
  4. Our abilities to lead by example
  5. Our intent to collaborate at speed
  6. Our exploitation of digital to amplify our productivity
  7. Our sense of lifestyle and wellbeing

The outcomes of the assessments were a deeper understanding of our organizational readiness to have a truly digital mindset, and a better appreciation of the urgency to reinvent our businesses to win in the 21st century. As a response, we started to deliver numerous self-paced digital offerings on our BrilliantYOU learning platform, including;

  • Regular MOOC’s which aim to improve our understanding of the company’s DI strategy,
  • Frequent SMARTBITS, knowledge bytes which encourage creation of content and virtual discussions to enable better listening and learning across the company, and 
  • A Digital Brand Ambassador program which promotes sharing content and social selling of our digital solutions on networks which elevate a personal brand and purpose.
  • Digitalizing education through the enablement of e-learning offerings on our digital industrial competencies for students at academic institutions across Africa.

2. GE for Customers: Developing Digital Business Acumen:  

Digital Transformation in the industrial world is very different and domain expertise is critical. It was vitally important to build a very different set of capabilities that enable us take advantage of the shift to digital technologies.

For GE, we want our employees to make the leap from yesterday’s conversations on skills such as Six Sigma, Life Sciences, Software Servers & Administration, Data warehouse, Products & Services to today’s conversations on Data Analytics, Design Thinking, Industrial Internet, Systems Thinking, Product Management, Agile, Advanced Manufacturing, Software/Coding, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Cloud etc.  We have also tackled this by investing in advanced technical skills programs for digital roles of today and the future.

An example of some thought leadership on the continent around this are academia/industry partnerships such as the GE-African Leadership University (ALU) collaboration where we are launching an Africa Industrial Internet Program in 2018 accredited by the local qualification authorities in South Africa. The aim is to build not just internal GE digital talent, but enhance industry wide talent for early to mid-career professionals as well as prospective graduates.

Ultimately, the intent to invest in digital capabilities is to create a “Digital Transformation Blueprint” with our partners that helps customers zero in on the critical items needed to get started on their own digital transformation journeys. We are continuously working with customers today to help them map out a roadmap to their future state, benchmarking them across their peers and identifying a set of sequenced productivity initiatives that deliver clear ROI on their infrastructure investments.

3. GE for the World: Creating Digital Craftsmanship  

In leveraging Predix, a platform to enable GE and our customers to start at the innovation layer rather than reinventing the industrial internet of things (IIoT) wheel, we realized we needed to create an open-innovation partner ecosystem that our customers can leverage across industrial markets and outcomes. In Africa, we have taken giant strides in ensuring the adoption of Predix by the local eco-system through hackathons, developer community events, and student campus challenges to ensure we take giant leaps in building innovative applications on the world’s first cloud service industrial analytics platform. 

An example of these was a recently concluded intelligent campus challenge in Ghana where sixteen students in four teams went through a 4 week/4-hour day training on what and how to code on the Predix platform. They built out various innovative solutions within the context of solving smart city problems in the energy/power consumption space within their campuses. The successful outcomes proved we have the capabilities and zeal to position Africa in the mainstream of the global digital era.

In summary, when an organization starts the journey of being digital, it is important they define what it truly means for them. For GE whether it’s a focus on behaviors that enable digital mindset changes for productivity gains, or developing deep digital business acumen to serve customers better, or just simply being able to articulate what it takes to be an astute digital craftsman in solving 21st century problems, we apply lessons learned, innovate rapidly, and deliver better outcomes faster.

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