8 essential roles for a successful digital transformation

CIOs scouring the earth to fill technical roles are likely ignoring the "medium digital" skills required to round out their digital transformations. Here are the lesser-known digital roles CIOs should target.

Clint Boulton Mar 05th 2018

Hiring enough software engineers, DevOps managers, cloud computing specialists and other roles required to facilitate IT transformations remain tall tasks for CIOs. But the talent crunch isn't limited to those with coding skills and algorithmic thinking: Enterprises are also struggling to hire staff with soft skills who can help shape the user experience around digital services.

For a digital transformation to be successful, companies need storytellers, UX designers and product managers, among other roles. These skill sets help round out the human experience required to support emerging digital services. And these roles will only become more important as organizations increasingly lean on artificial intelligence and other technologies in which humans and machines must augment each other, says Paul Daugherty, CTO and chief innovation officer at Accenture.

"We need more coders," Daugherty says. "However, five years from now, we won’t be worried about coders, but the lack of people with soft skills. We're short on people who can understand the human experience."

Daughtery, who tackles the need for organizations to beef up on what he calls "missing middle" digital skills in a new book, Human +  Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI, says enterprises require a rethinking of how to leverage people and technology.

UX designers

Building a chatbot is impossible without UX designers. Once a business case has been established, you will need UX designers to help figure out how the product will look and feel. Many UX experience designers can code, though their main role is shaping how end users will consume the product.

Digital trainers

To help your chatbot strike the right tone you need someone to train the bot in a way that embodies your corporate culture. Trainers can help natural-language processors and language translators make fewer errors, and teach AI algorithms how to mimic human behaviors. For example, a media company may opt for a chatbot with a snarkier tone, while an insurance company might require a more formal-sounding virtual assistant. Whatever the use case, humans are required to help train the bots how to demonstrate empathy for humans.

Such "no-collar" skills may require someone with a liberal arts background — think sociology, anthropology, psychology, drama or journalism — who can help "train" the chatbot how to speak in ways that reflect the company's business objectives, Daugherty says. Regardless of their training, such talent should be able to communicate and articulate corporate culture.

Writers

Enterprises need writers, or “storytellers,” to help shape digital experiences such as chatbots, or even how employees and consumers should interact with new augmented reality services you're building, says Todd Rovak, CEO of Capgemini Consulting North America. Home improvement retailer Lowe's, for example, has hired writers to craft narratives around robots and other digital services. 

Conversational brand strategist

Say a consumer packaged goods company wants to tap into the conversational messaging zeitgeist by building a new chatbot. This will require a fresh approach and talent, namely, someone who can convey and reimagine the company's culture. Doing this in the proper context and tone is key to cultivate the right experience, but the conversational brand strategist must also be able to explain how this works to the CEO, CMO, CIO, CDO and other business functions. “This whole obsession with customer experience and centricity requires context,” Rovak says. “There has to be a ‘why’ to understand the experience.”

Forensics analysts

Enterprises are concerned about the so-called "black box" challenge of explaining the results of AI, a challenge that may grow as governments expect more transparency regarding decisions algorithms make. For that you need a sort of CSI for AI. Algorithm forensics analysts, for example, might help enterprises explain the genesis of outcomes to business executives. Such analysts might work with coders and data scientists to understand how an algorithm reached its conclusion, Daugherty says.

Ethics compliance manager

Ethics compliance managers will help ensure that your AI systems are operating as designed and that unintended consequences are addressed post haste, Daugherty says. Such a manager would, for example, intervene in the event an AI system for credit approval was discriminating against people in certain professions or specific geographic areas. The ethics compliance manager could work with an algorithm forensics analyst to uncover the underlying reasons for such results and then implement the appropriate fixes, Daugherty says.

Digital product managers

IT and trainers got the chatbot up and running. PwC partner John Karren says a digital organization needs product managers to position the bot for consumers. Digital product manager's roles could include responsibility for storytelling, crafting product narratives, but ideally they will own the entire product from top to bottom, ensuring the UX is crisp and that the appropriate compliance boxes have been checked with legal. "You need to know how to take a digital product and apply that to the market, or even within an organization," Karren says.

Workplace technology manager

It’s no longer enough for a CIO to have lieutenants with such titles as vice president of end user computing. CIOs need VPs who manage the digital experiences of employees. Such a role will help architect user experience, ensuring anything from the proper ergonomics of chairs and desks, to the appropriate floorplans and conference rooms, as well as the collaboration platforms and other tools employees use to do their work.

The importance of training

To address the so-called missing middle, enterprises will also need to train employees on "medium digital" skills. In a column published in NBCNews.com earlier this month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted while coding is important it isn't the be-all, end-all media makes it out to be.

"With technology changing rapidly and new job areas emerging and transforming constantly ... we need to focus on making lightweight, continuous education widely available," Pichai wrote. "This is just as crucial to making sure that everyone can find opportunities in the future workplace." For instance, an enterprise may train office employees to use online programs to run budgets, scheduling, accounting and other crucial tasks. Such basic digital skills training is essential in ensuring employability at a time when automation may cannibalize several office functions.

Ultimately, new digital tools mean new ways of thinking that require reskilling or fresh infusions of talent. Daugherty says Accenture is investing $1 billion a year in reskilling the consultancy's 425,000 employees to be comfortable with emerging digital tools and processes. "Rather than leaving workers stranded, we invest in people and skills so that we can navigate [digital transition] a lot more smoothly,” Daugherty says. "It’s striking how companies aren’t investing yet in the right way in this.”