Digital dexterity: What it is, why your organization needs it, and how CIOs can lead the charge

A report from Gartner says digital dexterity is fundamental to modern businesses, and it's the job of CIOs to implement it. Here's how to get started.

Why digital workplace initiatives are failing Karen Roby talks with a Gartner analyst about the difficulties companies face when trying to implement change through digital workplace initiatives.

Analytics firm Gartner has coined a new term, digital dexterity, and there are several business recommendations to accompany it. 

If you're not sure what digital dexterity is, you aren't alone. Craig Roth, Gartner Research vice president, explained it as "the ability and ambition to use technology for better business outcomes." 

That definition can still seem a bit fuzzy if you aren't sure where ability and ambition come in to the successful use of tech in business, but digging down just a bit helps make the whole thing more understandable. 

Digital dexterity defined

Helen Poitevin, vice president and analyst at Gartner, expands the definition of digital dexterity by adding that it's less about tech skills and more about "a specific set of mindsets, beliefs and behaviors." 

SEE: 10 free alternatives to Microsoft Word and Excel (TechRepublic download)

In short, digital dexterity is about building a tech-friendly business culture. It's not a technical concept as much as it is a cultural one.

"Business models increasingly depend on the digital dexterity of their workforce to use technology to drive digital transformation goals," Roth said. The key element of any new tech project, product rollout, or change in the way things are done requires a workforce willing to fully engage with new technology, adapt their work style to include it, and quickly learn how it fits into the overall mission of an organization.

"No matter what new technology or process a company decides it needs to switch to, the change will not happen if employees do not fully engage with it," Roth added. 

The CIO's role in creating a digitally dextrous company

So, where does the CIO fit into all of this? They're basically the cornerstone of the entire concept, said Daniel Sanchez Reina, senior director and analyst at Gartner. "The CIO will play a key role in supporting desired behaviors and changing the processes, procedures, policies and management practices that shape how work gets done to encourage desired behaviors."

It can be tough to transform an entire organization from one that resists, or at the very least grudgingly accepts, new technology. CIOs have a tough road ahead of them, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

Roth recommends that CIOs take the following steps to help build a more digitally dextrous workforce:

  • Start by using surveys or focus groups to determine factors that reduce the desire of employees to change what they do. Figure out what went wrong in the past and how it can be fixed.

  • Build a benchmarking/measurement process that assesses employees (and overall cultural) attitudes toward new tech in the workplace. Armed with that data you can determine where and how to focus energy (e.g., on one department or a particular kind of technology).

  • Consider building a "future visioning effort" that imagines the future of your particular workplace. People may be more willing to accept new tech if they see it as a building block to a better future.

  • "Training in citizen development, citizen data science, and any other areas where non IT workers could recognize a need that technology could solve and work on their own to solve it."

  • Take time to train users on new tech and explain how it fits into the larger business picture. By showing users where a product fits and how it can increase collaboration, make gathering data easier, and help move the organization forward they may become less resistant to adopting it.

Implementing a cultural change on the level of digital dexterity is a huge task, especially for large organizations with tech-resistant employees. CIOs have a lot of work ahead of them if they want to build digitally dextrous companies. 

Be sure to check out Gartner's 4 Steps to developing digital dexterity for more tips on creating a digitally dextrous workplace. 

Also see

How to become a CIO: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
Cloud providers 2019: A buyer's guide (TechRepublic download)
Policy pack: Workplace ethics (TechRepublic Premium)
Tech Budgets 2019: A CXO's Guide (ZDNet)
6 ways to delete yourself from the internet (CNET)
Best to-do list apps for managing tasks on any platform (Download.com)
CXO: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Digital marketing campaign data analytics report with metrics and key performance indicators (KPI) on information dashboard for advertisement strategy on internet, business person in office

Image: iStockphoto/NicoElNino