You don't need to code but you must speak digital

June 2015

We’ve just had an election during which digital technology was barely mentioned. Almost all debate was anchored in last century analogue thinking. So it is no surprise that the Digital Skills Committee have just released a report saying the UK is at a tipping point and urgently needs to improve the woeful levels of digital skills available amongst the workforce. As they report, 35% of UK jobs are at risk of being automated over the next 20 years and we need to create new, digitally enabled, work to replace the 10 million plus jobs that this represents.

You’ve probably heard it said that ‘we all need to be able to code’, and that you can learn to build an app in a day. Well, sorry but this is nonsense and misses the point about the skills that are needed NOW in the workforce. It is a good thing that coding will be part of the national curriculum but apart from the time it is going to take to teach the teachers, it is going to be at least a decade before these students leave school. So between now and then what are we going to do? Should we all be enrolling in coding classes?

The answer is no. You no more need to learn to code than you need to be able to build the engine in your car. But you need to be able to drive and you need to understand the vocabulary of, and speak, digital.

There are few areas of your business that will not benefit from, or be changed by, digital technologies. Whether you are dealing with internal staff, or suppliers, or partners, or customers you need to be thinking about the digital skills and tools that can make your operations not be 10% better, but degrees of magnitude better. So you need to think how technology could enable an entirely new, transformational business model (think Uber vs Taxis, or Hilton vs Airbnb). How you could improve the user experience and user design of every touchpoint with every stakeholder. How you could apply predictive analytics to the big data you are now able to capture, and how machine learning might enable dramatically more efficient processes.

And throughout your company everyone needs to be able to engage fully with digital technologies. So all should learn a dozen key HTML tags, how to use Google Docs, become adept at search, to understand the value of social media, and new channels to market. And with online marketing being so important, how to write quality copy, how to find and manipulate imagery, run a podcast, shoot a video, and analyse website traffic. And so on.

We are front running the robots. Speaking digital is the key to staying ahead.


This first appeared in Estates Gazette on the 6th June 2015