Technology provides businesses of all shapes and sizes with the tools they need to drive growth and innovation. And that’s never more important than in times of turbulence and economic uncertainty.
No matter what the wider economic outlook, businesses that are able to quickly identify and reactively or proactively meet changing customer wants, needs and priorities will always prosper.
The technology landscape is constantly evolving. This means it’s essential to take a high-level, strategic approach to putting the right skills in place, across the workforce. By doing this, business leaders ensure their organisations are ready to leverage the tools, platforms and trends that will help them to tackle their priorities – without being side-tracked by those that are just likely to be a distraction.
So, here are the five areas where I feel businesses need to focus their energy when it comes to developing key skills. Whether you’re a one-person show offering professional or freelance services, or part of a global enterprise with thousands of employees, skills in these fields will help you do business more efficiently, safely and profitably.
1. Artificial intelligence
Without doubt, AI is the hot topic of the day when it comes to business technology. Developing skills in AI doesn’t necessarily have to be about learning advanced computer science and how to create machine-learning algorithms from scratch. More practically, it’s about understanding how to fit the plethora of tools and platforms that are becoming increasingly available, affordable and usable every day, to the needs of your business.
By now, most people reading this have probably heard of, and used, ChatGPT, or the new, AI-enabled version of Microsoft’s Bing search engine. You may even have dabbled with tools like Dall-E 2 or Stable Diffusion to see what all the fuss around AI-generated art is about.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally hundreds of AI-infused tools and platforms becoming available, designed to automate and speed up leisure or business activities from bookkeeping to social media management, prospecting for leads, creating text, videos and soundtracks, or managing any kind of project.
More than developing advanced programming, maths and statistical skills, building AI capabilities into an organisation today is about identifying what sort of tasks can benefit from being automated and delegated to AI, and then finding the right applications and tools to get it done. It’s also about being able to understand and predict the way AI will impact your line of business in the future, so when even more sophisticated and powerful tools inevitably become available, you’ll be the first to put them to work and reap the rewards.
2. Data analysis
Most businesses don’t know how to use even a fraction of the data that they generate or have access to through external sources. Those that do can use it to drive efficiency, better understand their markets and competition, and develop products and services that are more in-line with their customers’ needs.
As with AI – and this is particularly true if you are a smaller organisation – these days it doesn’t necessarily have to mean developing the hardcore technical skills that you would have needed if you’d wanted to carry out analytics 20 years ago.
Today, you can find myriad tools with friendly user-interfaces that will help you analyse your data. All you need to do is access the data you already have to understand, for example, what demographics your products and services are popular with, what price points your customers are comfortable with, how your customer service performance impacts your customer churn, and how faults, breakages and wastage affects your bottom line.
It’s a sad but inescapable fact that as technology enables us to do new and amazing things, it also makes us vulnerable to new threats. The cost of cybercrime to businesses will be $8tn in 2023 and is expected to grow to £10.5t by 2025. Much of this is down to costs incurred when data is stolen – estimated at around $500 per stolen record, with the most damaging cyber thefts seeing fraudsters make off with millions of records.
Once again, there is a common misconception here – that implementing cybersecurity skills will involve hiring elite experts who will sit in a darkened room, scanning monitors for thieves attempting to breach your firewall. In fact, the most important cybersecurity skills are those that can be taught relatively cheaply to anyone. These include safe password management practices, avoidance of malware, and awareness of phishing and social engineering attacks designed to trick employees into giving up access or letting attackers in.
For smaller organisations, this enhanced level of awareness plus competence with the wide range of existing, off-the-shelf security solutions are critical elements of a basic cybersecurity strategy. Larger organisations have to think about implementing policies throughout an organisation, from top to bottom, as well as implementing policies to keep devices secure when workers are remote, or accessing company assets via their own devices.
4. User and customer experience
We know that customers are increasingly placing importance on the experience of choosing, buying and using products and services – to the point where it has greater influence over what they buy than price or quality does. After all, things we buy are increasingly subscription-based – where our choices can be cancelled and re-thought if we aren’t happy with them or don’t feel we are getting good value. And products are increasingly disposable and replaceable. But experience is an issue every time we interact with a business or use what we have bought – so good ones are priceless.
The customer experience agent is an increasingly important player in many types of business. It’s their job to think about the entire customer journey across every touchpoint. Where are the frictions and small, niggling drops in experience quality that could eventually add up to causing the loss of a customer? And how can technological solutions help us to overcome these problems? This covers the specific technology disciplines of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design – ensuring the products and services that your customers use are designed to be as friendly and intuitive as possible.
5. Cloud platforms
Most of the skills we’ve mentioned previously in this article can be supplied directly to your businesses via on-demand, pay-as-you-go cloud platforms. Cloud platforms can also host the tools and applications we need internally to run our business processes (think collaborative platforms like Teams or Slack).
And they can also be used to deliver your services directly to your customers. For most businesses that don’t have millions to spend on infrastructure and the ability to attract unlimited amounts of world-class talent, the cloud will be the gateway to leveraging AI and machine learning, and putting services together to make it possible will be a vital skill.
This means that expertise in cloud platforms, infrastructure, architecture and engineering will continue to be highly valuable for businesses of all sizes during 2023. Newer paradigms and models of cloud computing – such as hybrid-cloud, multi-cloud and super-cloud will continue to redefine what is possible, while simultaneously becoming more user-friendly and accessible to more businesses.