Analytical and decision-making skills are top priorities for digital transformation in the COVID-19 era

A new report from Cognizant says the global pandemic pushed the enterprise to innovate, focusing on skills that will be valuable by 2023.

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Image: iStock/Radachynskyi

In the COVID-19 era, the nature of the workplace has been thrown into flux—and will likely never be the same. Face-to-face meetings have shifted over to virtual ones on Zoom, for instance, augmented reality-based troubleshooting services are in high demand, and doing a job remotely has become the norm rather than a perk. To come to grips with this pandemic reality, the digital firm Cognizant just released its The Work Ahead report—tracking the challenges the workforce in the United States and Canada are dealing with in the present moment. 

For the study, culled together by Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work, the organization heard from thousands of business professionals, which allowed it to better understand how things like remote work, the pandemic, and digital technologies, among other things, are accelerating digital transformation at their companies.

The study was conducted between June 2020 and August 2020 by computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) and was run in a similar manner to its 2016 study (with a new focus on how the global pandemic has impacted the enterprise). The latest one zeros in on skills that will be valuable by 2023.   

The main takeaway from the report is that when dealing with the challenges created by the coronavirus, "the most important skills are less about formulating a strategy and more about the ability to execute on a strategic plan through innovation and decision-making."  

What's more, Cognizant reports that almost half of those surveyed (49%) believe the pandemic will "destroy traditional, non-digital businesses and those that don't move online aggressively enough" and that new ideas are in "high demand among respondents in all markets, with the most in-demand skills by 2023 being analytical skills (59%) and decision-making (59%)."  Moreover, a majority of the respondents (73%) said that "the process of adopting data analytics technology in some way, and a similar number is employing artificial intelligence (AI)." 

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To dig into the results further, Euan Davis, the associate vice president at Cognizant Technology Solutions, said in an interview, "If you look at how quickly so many businesses have had to evolve in the past year, it is quite astonishing." 

"Every business has taken a huge leap with how they work and their systems operate," Davis said. "So something as simple as the interface into your local store, or how you are booking an appointment with your doctor, or how we are beginning to educate our kids, all those things are changing more quickly than we imagined they would before the virus." 

"The virus has really compressed—like an accordion, so to speak—the development of an industry really, really, quickly," he added. 

One example Davis gave, who is from the UK, is how physical money is now viewed in his country. He noted that hardly "anyone in the UK uses cash anymore because they think it's dirty—how it's handled and you could catch things from it." As a result, he says the use of hard currency will perhaps never come back to how it was viewed before COVID-19. "That's a really interesting change if you run a bank, or a retail shop, or a cafe, for instance. The way we exchange money has basically changed overnight." 

There's room for hope, however. Davis says that the accelerated automation spawned by COVID-19 perhaps will allow "humans to focus on what they are really good at," such as focusing on "the actual customer themselves—and the creativity and empathy needed to deliver an experience the customer remembers." 

In regards to the Cognizant report, it caps it off with this advice: "As we embark on the work ahead, look around – maybe the coronavirus and great 'pause' allowed us to really see what's going on." The study adds that the spike in robotics and AI, along with "gig" work and the ever-present use of digital tools, should make enterprises reimagine trends that "point to new regional dynamics on the frontier for the next, new American future of work." 

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