In 2023, one thing is undeniable: the future is digital. Right now, research shows that 64 per cent of all Australians use digital skills in their jobs. Within the next five years, that number is expected to grow to 90 per cent.
The reason for this growth is that systems and processes — and, therefore, a lot of work — are increasingly being converted to digital technologies. Yet the transition to completing work in this way is not always smooth, and employees everywhere need effective digital leadership to be able to transform and thrive in the digital world.
Aspiring business leaders should understand what digital leadership is and what best practice looks like to thrive at work now and in the future.
What is digital leadership?
Digital leadership is the discipline of leading the digital transformation within a business, with the ultimate goal of successfully adopting and utilising digital tools. The adoption of these tools must occur in a way that will make the organisation more efficient and effective.
What is a leader in the digital world?
Because digital leadership requires a very distinct skill set, it’s important to define what a leader is in the digital world.
Digital leaders excel at all the same things traditional leaders excel at. For example, they are adept at articulating an inspiring vision and purpose, as well as leading change and communicating well. However, leaders in the digital world must also understand systems and technology.
Specifically, digital leaders need to understand not only how systems and technology work but also how that technology will be received and utilised by employees, as well as how the technology will impact the way employees work and the type of work they do. Digital leaders need to be able to effectively manage employees through shifts and changes to ensure that digital technology is used to create a competitive advantage.
Examples of digital leaders
You do not need to have the words ‘digital’ and ‘executive’ in your title to be tasked with digital leadership responsibilities in your organisation.
Here are a few roles within organisations where digital leadership is important:
As people increasingly turn to the online world for all of their shopping and service needs, almost all modern marketing includes digital elements.
Increasingly, marketing managers are being called upon to manage a suite of different types of digital advertising and the associated analytical tools that go with them. For this reason, digital leadership is critical in marketing roles.
In years gone by, the procurement of goods and services was managed through spreadsheets and relationships. Nowadays, spreadsheets have been replaced by numerous complex analytical tools that can help procurement officers manage every element of obtaining goods and services, from creating tenders and investigating suppliers to managing invoicing.
This means that digital leadership is required to successfully oversee an organisation’s procurement functions.
Human resource roles
The COVID-19 pandemic radically altered the way that many employees work, meaning that human resource (HR) departments needed to function in an entirely different way.
With many professional roles now partly (or fully) remote — and hiring increasingly becoming digital (including through the use of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven short listing and testing tools) — HR professionals need to be adept at digital leadership to ensure they can continue to deliver for the people within their organisation.
Why is digital leadership important in 2023?
The world is becoming more digital each day. Businesses must embrace digital technologies or risk being left behind. Unfortunately, many Australian businesses are already falling behind when it comes to their digital transformations. An Australian Computer Science survey found that Australian small businesses ‘failed spectacularly’ to capitalise on the pandemic’s digital disruptions, meaning that they have essentially ‘been left in the digital dark ages’.
Talented digital leaders are required to ensure more Australian businesses of all sizes do not suffer this same fate.
Future of digital leadership
Research shows that, by 2025, 95 per cent of all customer interactions will be powered by AI. This means organisations with customers (which is most organisations), will increasingly need to understand and engage with all things digital, either via their customers or through their own workflows.
For this reason, effective digital leadership will become an essential and inescapable part of every organisation. Digital leaders will be required to lead digital transformations — as they currently do — and ensure that more than 16 per cent of all transformations are successful.
How to become a digital leader
Most — if not all — employees will need to utilise digital leadership skills in their professional lifetimes. To become a digital leader, you should:
Keep abreast of important technologies and trends
Digital technologies are evolving rapidly, and what may have constituted best practice just a few years ago may now be obsolete.
Digital leaders need to stay in the know with the latest technological trends, technologies and threats to ensure that their function or organisation stays ahead of the curve.
Be a change champion
Digital transformations often fail because people are afraid of change. This is particularly the case with technology, where people feel that their jobs may be threatened.
To become a digital leader, you need to be a change champion for all things digital. This means that you take the lead in understanding and campaigning for new technologies and processes — and help others around you feel comfortable doing the same.
Take the time to understand how things work
Previously, many digital tools were complex and learning how to use them was difficult. However, as our understanding of the way users interact with digital tools has increased, so too has the ease of using these tools. Now, a lot of digital tools have become relatively simple to master.
To be a digital leader, though, it’s important to understand not only how something works but why it works that way, and what impact it will have on your organisation or department. Having a thorough understanding of your organisation’s technology will enable you, as a digital leader, to help troubleshoot and problem-solve a digital transformation that may not be working as it should be.
Digital leadership in 2023 and beyond
Qualified digital leaders are currently in high demand, especially after recent resignations and other factors. Businesses are looking for employees who not only excel at what they do but also excel at all things digital.
In the future, organisations will require employees at all levels — from junior to executive — to seamlessly use and champion digital tools.
The best way to begin your journey toward digital leadership is to get qualified. Enrol in VU Online’s Master of Business Administration program to gain the skills you need to succeed.