Technology and people both lie at the heart of digital transformation, and one can’t work effectively without the other. 

In the third blog post of their digital skills series, Dave Weller, Digital Skills Lead at the University of Exeter, discusses why upgrading digital skills is harder than upgrading technology – and how the University’s Digital Skills Initiative will approach digital upskilling. 

Digital skills: the key to digital transformation

The path to digital transformation begins with digital skills.  

The University of Exeter recently partnered with Times Higher Education to host Digital Universities UK 2024 on our Streatham campus, and this event really drove home that digital skills are the key to achieving successful digital transformation. 

After all, digital transformation has three pillars – technical, process, and people. While it’s tempting to paper over the cracks with new technology, an organisation won’t achieve its potential without digitally literate people.  

As the Harvard Business Review notes, ‘digital transformation is about talent, not technology’.  

Digital transformation vs. digital skills 

Digital skills refer to the abilities and knowledge needed to effectively use digital technologies, devices, and resources. These skills range from basic computer literacy to advanced competencies like data analysis, programming, digital content creation, and AI. 

Digital transformation on the other hand, refers to the strategic integration of digital technologies into all areas of an organisation, changing how it operates and delivers value.  

While digital transformation is often driven by top-down initiatives, its success depends on the bottom-up application of digital skills by the people who use those new technologies. 

According to Stanford University’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a significant reason that organisations fail to harvest productivity gains from new technologies (including AI), is that they neglect to invest in upskilling their staff. 

Why are digital skills often overlooked? 

Technology is clearly defined, but people are complex. 

Discussing technology is straightforward, as it has clearly defined capabilities. We can extrapolate how upgrading technology will affect efficiency and productivity. 

Upskilling people is more challenging. 

Anyone involved in learning and development knows that everyone starts at a different level of understanding. Usually this calls for a skills audit at an institutional level, with a training needs analysis at the individual level. 

Even with this, upskilling still isn’t guaranteed.  

Staff also need time, motivation, engagement, the right level of challenge, and support. Then there’s the eternal challenge of measuring learning outcomes. 

Introducing Our Digital Skills Initiative

We’re confident that our Digital Skills Initiative will tackle these challenges head-on. 

  • The digital skills library will provide engaging materials on-demand, personalised to Exeter 
  • The diagnostic tool will allow for a self-assessed training needs analysis, and will show progress over time 
  • The data dashboard will allow the University to see anonymised, aggregated data for a digital skills audit, and to provide support where needed. 

We’ll be sharing more detail on our Digital Skills Initiative soon!

– Written by Dave Weller, Digital Skills Lead

Take a look at our 2030 digital strategy to learn more about why we are focusing on digital upskilling and how it will help us to achieve our vision of becoming the most accessible and connected university destination for any user, and as always, get in touch with the team if you have any questions.