The Digital Leader’s Changing Skillset for All Industries

Haydar Vural
Haydar Vural

We are now in an era of end-to-end digitalization globally in all industries. Whenever we deep-dive into an industry to find new ways to gain competitive advantage, digital leaders and their contributions become vital for success. So, this era has set a new role for digital leaders, which is pioneering technology for corporations in all aspects.

Finding the right technology solution and adding it to your technology stack is no longer sufficient. It is not easy to fulfil this role unless you focus on your skillset and add some new ones. If a brief list of new skills is prepared, one on the list would be the negotiation with the ecosystem.

If the definition of the digital ecosystem was asked by professionals 30 years ago, the most common answers would be technology providers, system integrators, universities, and research centers. These answers are still essential, but new ones, like start-ups and talented individuals, emerged quickly. The new entrants have different rules of games and establishing a mutual benefit with them needs understanding their rules. The previous list strongly understands the corporate world and its expectations. The new ones do not want to be bound by the tight rules of the corporate business environment.

Freedom and self-decision-making are at the top of their priority list. This is different from the well-organized previous cooperation, and it is open to varying discussions. Digital leaders must learn how to negotiate with start-ups and talented individuals in the corporate world. This is like balancing a scale.

Providing freedom to the ecosystem must be balanced with corporate risk mitigation and innovation. This is not so easy if big companies are still seen as more powerful in this game. Innovation coming from a start-up or individual may generate unprecedented revenues in a short while, and start-ups and individuals are aware of this power.

The scale, history, and reputation of any party in the ecosystem must be discarded, and negotiation must be done based on potential outcomes.

If we continue the list of ecosystem-related skills, being a brand ambassador is another one. Finding the right talent is extremely competitive, and hiring a few recruiter companies will not guarantee that. Whenever a talent is contacted for cooperation, most of the time, the key question is with whom they would be working.

Digital leaders must invest in advance to be well-known in the ecosystem and visible to prospective employees. Their understanding of the technology and vision for the future are some key facts to impress the candidates. The universities, student clubs and academies need more care, and the digital leaders must spend time to have connections with them. Offering the highest salary or being the biggest in your industry will not provide the same level of brand awareness when it is compared with pre-established word of mouth based on communication.

The lifetime learner is a common subject when the profiles of most executives are read. To fulfill it, too much time and energy is needed, and it is a must for a new leadership style. The rapid change of technologies and emerging new ones made the digital world too complicated. Just to give an example, generative AI was not on most of our agenda three years ago. Now, there are companies which totally implement their core strategies or business operations with the support of generative AI.

A leader without the knowledge of underlying technology will avoid from its full benefit to companies. The overrated technologies sometimes lead decision-makers to invest massive amounts, and technology teams are the only ones that may prevent it. Technology is not easy to follow for non-technical decision-makers, and the illusion coming from the buzzwords may make them confused easily. The right mix of technology and investment cannot be achieved unless a digital leader comprehensively understands the technology, explains it to business stakeholders, and even drops some from the business agenda,

Lifetime learning also puts another burden on digital leader’s shoulders, teaching it to the rest. The efficiency and profit coming from digital technologies force companies to learn new ones quickly and adopt them before their competitors. The individuals are very willing to learn and try them by themselves. Letting employees understand and implement them unharmonized and unaligned with a corporate strategy may not be a helpful solution. Consider this with an orchestra playing a classical music piece.

Each instrument is like a technology and when they are played at the right time and with the right skill, the perfect music piece may be performed. It takes years to master an instrument, but people have a few years or sometimes months to use technology in the digital world. Choosing them, building the strategy and implementing the technical skill development processes are key items in digital leader agendas.

Finally, the last item on our list will be the AI-master digital leader. AI is the top answer to questions when it is asked in different industries about what will change the industry in the upcoming years. The options available in the market are enormous, and the right mix of solutions, partners, training, and investments gives you the maximum benefit. Just to give an example, if the number of data and data transformation tools available in the market are compared with ten years ago, the current list contains 3-4 times more options. If the AI solution providers list is compared in the same way, it is 20-30 times. The digital leaders must build the mechanisms to listen to them, understand their differences than competitors, be able to initiate investment to start-up and develop sector specific products together. If digital leaders do not spend time on learning AI fundamentals and applications, they will lose their competitive advantage.

About the Author

Haydar Vural is the Chief Digital Officer of Karsan Automotive. He has built digital strategy and implemented technology in different industries for over 20 years. He observed how successful digital strategy shaped corporate with business outcomes and believes that this is the key to sustainable profitability.