Competitive Threats Driving Digital Adaptation

While digital adaptation may evoke visions of continuous improvement and innovation-led initiatives, the real impetus behind digital adaptation is more basic – survival. 70% of B2B companies have digital adaptation projects underway in direct response to competitive threats, according to a recent poll of 300 leading business-to-business companies. Three main sources of competitive threats are looming: those from existing companies, emerging digitally native online competitors, and overseas suppliers offering lower price points. And of these three, the biggest threat is the emerging digitally native company – the totally new player that didn’t exist yesterday. They are the smaller, niche players that can turn on a dime, or venture-backed startup operations, or even students in dorm rooms, all armed with a passion for change and the latest technology. While some of these brand new competitors may be capital-challenged, they have a major competitive advantage over established players by avoiding the expense and upkeep of legacy systems. In fact, executives participating in the research mentioned above pointed to the manpower, expense and operational risk associated with legacy systems as the number one roadblock to their digital success. Internal resistance to change came in number two. It’s not just the shifting competitive landscape that trips up established companies aiming to digitally transform themselves. Competitive threats in the digital age are more complex and more difficult to defend against than traditional types of marketplace assault. Today, competitors can use a laser focus to take down a piece of business they find attractive, compromising profit and market share, one demographic or market slice at a time. For instance, the banking industry, which previously owned the relationship between the financial institution and the customer now sees a deluge of application-based companies shearing off its most lucrative transaction-based offerings. These competitors completely avoided the expensive real estate and extensive human resource requirements of building and maintaining a network of physical locations, which significantly lowered their operational costs. In addition, these digitally-oriented competitors can appear unexpectedly in an industry. Imagine the surprise to the auto industry when they found that consumers were willing to forgo visiting car dealerships to purchase a car online. Several companies emerged encouraging consumers to bypass the vehicle dealership all together. These digital-only companies allow consumers to configure, price and order a new vehicle completely online – from the comfort of their homes or offices – and have the new vehicles delivered to anywhere they choose. While each of these pure-play start-up competitors is disrupting a different sector of a different market, they share a common goal: to put the consumer back in control. B2C companies learned this lesson when, in the early days of digital, the Internet lowered the barriers to entry for new competitors. Retailers were slow to respond to consumers’ online shopping preferences and only took the threat seriously when new online-only players began to take market share from the leaders. This slow response left many market leaders reeling and caused a massive amount of physical stores to close and companies to declare bankruptcy. It’s no longer enough for executives in any market, industry or geography to keep tabs on known sources of competition. On the digital landscape, competition can come from anywhere, which means executives need to be especially vigilant about protecting their market share. To remain successful, companies must digitally adapt to build and maintain an edge over their competitors – the traditional ones they watch regularly, as well as the emerging and digitally native startups, and, even those students in dorm rooms. To learn more about how digital adaptation is changing more than just the way businesses compete, read our white paper, “An Introduction to Digital Adaptation.”

Four Trends Redefining the Workforce Model

As digital adaptation takes hold, four over-arching shifts are converging to change the way organizations build and evolve their workforces. 1. Access to Evolving Skills In this era of digital adaptation, organizations’ staffing needs change on a dime as they respond to evolving customer requirements. To react quickly, today’s workforce models need to combine in-house candidate identification, recruitment, and more thoughtful retention with precision-driven third-party staffing utilization. External staffing resources will need to meet the needs for specific technology domain expertise, industry experience, creative workforce models, innovative engagement structures, technical innovation and creativity, and much more. Hiring organizations will prefer third-party partners that can deliver on these increasingly complex staffing requirements while adding value in new and unexpected ways. 2. Need for Skill over Scale In the past, IT demands preferred scale above all else. That’s because the type of project being staffed required rote repetition of key tasks – an assignment perfectly suited to offshoring. Today’s technology projects demand a wider range of skills in smaller quantities, as well as a heightened need for collaboration and communication. The once-dominant waterfall approach to software development has been replaced with a more relevant Agile Methodology popularized by digital adaptation’s ebbing and flowing needs. Today, the skilled project team – one that has been created and staffed for a particular assignment able to cover everything from User Experience to backend database demands – dominates the workforce landscape. Agile teams are smaller, command a wider variety of technology skills, and require broader “soft” skills such as communication, real-time creative problem solving and collaboration. 3. Demand for Innovation, Collaboration Collaboration leads to better outcomes, and that’s true across all industries and markets. In acknowledgement of this widely held belief, market-leaders such as IBM and Yahoo are moving remote workers back into corporate offices. Why? It’s certainly not the opportunity to pay sky-high rent on urban offices. It’s an effort to reclaim the creativity and innovation that comes from sharing close quarters. While not every company can make such a significant investment in expensive office space, many companies are taking time to reevaluate and rebalance their approach to workforce building. Partners with innovative staffing delivery capabilities and those that adopt the latest communications tools and platforms to encourage collaboration are winning favor as hiring organizations seek expert help in balancing cost against the need for quality output, a chief motivator behind the “rehoming” trend. 4. Push to Expand Talent Pools Although the US technology-based talent pool dwindled as offshoring started to grow after 2001, efforts to promote STEM-based education have picked up in recent years. Despite that push, the slight uptick in STEM-based hiring that happened in 2016 came about because of foreign-born STEM-educated candidates. While STEM-based hiring is on the upswing, demand for technology skills continues to far outstrip supply. Today, public and private sector hiring organizations are competing with contracting firms, staff augmentation firms, and offshore companies for a limited number of STEM specialists. To rectify that imbalance, hiring organizations are partnering with high schools and universities to foster interest in and pursuit of STEM-based careers for US students.   To learn more about how organizations in the midst of digital reinvention utilize workforce partners to build out their staffs, download our white paper, "An Introduction to Digital Adaptation.”

Why Rural Sourcing is the Next Starbucks

True confession, I’m a Starbucks coffee fan. Each day starts with a triple grande nonfat cappuccino. I’m also a big Howard Schultz fan; I even have an autographed copy of his book: Onward. More importantly, I respect his social and civic activism as well as admire his vision of creating a 3rd place to have a coffee experience. Whether you like the Starbucks brand or one of the tens of thousands of other coffee options in America it was Schultz’s vision of creating a third place that began this lovefest with the consumption of coffee somewhere other than your home (#1) or your office (#2). This vision created a new alternative at a scale that didn’t previously exist. The Rural Sourcing business model follows the same concept and vision. Up until recently, businesses had two options for their IT workforce strategy. Businesses could bring in the talent to their office in their city, often at expensive hourly rates, or they could offshore the work to an outsourcing firm for less expensive hourly rates and figure out how to manage the cultural, language, and time zone challenges. At Rural Sourcing we saw the need to create that third option at scale. Onshore domestic technology talent is abundant in smaller cities such as Albuquerque, NM; Pensacola, FL; Augusta, GA; or Mobile Alabama. These cities, complete with large universities, low cost of living and high quality of life, represent millions of available technology talent waiting to be deployed to solve IT problems for the world’s greatest companies located in much higher cost locations. Rural Sourcing selects cities like these based on our proprietary data analysis of the qualified talent pool, the quality of life and the affordability of living in these locations. We then establish software development centers complete with the look and feel of a Google-environment where software developers and quality engineers can focus on creating applications to support our client’s on their digital journeys. The beauty of this third option, unlike Starbucks, is that it actually costs less than the other available options. With a substantially reduced cost of living in these smaller cities, the dollar goes a lot further than in San Francisco, New York or even an Atlanta. Also, when measured against offshore, domestic sourcing is more cost-effective when evaluated by the total cost of ownership or TCO of completing a successful project in today’s agile software development world. I’m not saying that businesses shouldn’t consume the available talent within their own cities or even offshore, as both have their respective roles to play in the sourcing strategy. For certain types of projects, these sourcing models may be well suited for the task. What I am saying is that there is a new coffee shop available that serves an amazing third alternative that may just taste better than your traditional sources. Find out more about our blend of services here.

Workforce Changes of Digital Adaptation

The advent of technology-empowered global workforces fundamentally changed the way employees and employers engaged. Technology connected workers around the globe, dissolving geographical boundaries. Today, fast-moving markets and customers’ ever-changing needs are creating an almost relentless pressure for companies to reinvent themselves and their employee models ─ again and again. How Offshoring Lost its Luster Digital adaptation arose from two significant workforce changes: (1) technology-enabled global labor; and (2) a geographically distributed workforce. These two fundamental shifts created a category of worker known as the “offshored.” As the Internet-connected workers around the globe, companies gained access to an international workforce that performed like local employees. Often, “follow the sun” development teams fast-tracked projects at near warp speed as compared to domestic-only, traditional workforces. At first, offshoring saved a lot of money for US-based companies that were able to move work overseas, take advantage of labor arbitrage, end benefits programs and layoff layers of middle management. For many companies, offshoring was a beautiful thing until one day it wasn’t. What began as a move to more cost-effective, less management-intensive workforces quickly exposed unintended, negative consequences of offshoring on two highly desirable outputs of work: innovation and collaboration. Lack of business context, ineffective communications, and virtually non-existent creativity constrained offshoring. The desired collaboration, communication, and innovation US companies sought from their offshored workforces did not materialize from a raft of geographically separated, workforces. For some, offshoring has become categorized by an untenable disconnect with customer demands. While the sheer economics of maintaining urban offices doesn’t support bringing everyone back in-house, a compromise must be found that balances budgetary constraints against digital adaptation’s need for collaboration. In many cases, employees’ preference for working from their home offices using online collaboration tools is helping companies move closer to this balance. However, a lack of specialized talent continues to plague companies’ looking for experienced assistance. In these instances, the availability of niche talent prompts companies to accept assistance from specialists who are dispersed geographically. While companies pioneering digital adaptation may have to use some distributed workforces, partnership models need to promote vitally important communication, collaboration, and innovative thinking. Digital Adaptation Matches Teams to Projects In the digital age, scalability, the massive availability of skilled workers, gives way to teams comprised of workers with diverse skills and mindsets. These teams will be created to meet the specific requirements of the project at hand, and they will be disbanded at the project’s completion. The constant change characteristic of digital adaptation demands a flexible approach to skills acquisition. The ability to quickly construct, manage and get the team to full productivity will become a key requirement for corporations. Acquiring new skills and a dedication to lifelong learning will become table stakes for employees in every workforce, whether traditional, distributed, outsourced, or contingent. At its heart, digital adaptation requires more management, more communication, and more collaboration –not less. As Daniel Newman pointed out, traditional leaders quickly became stumped as to how to manage these diverse and divergent groups of individuals. That’s why new workforce models, while a good place to start, require new management models as well. Digital Success Depends on Effective Recombining of the Workforce Workforce models and effective management approaches for fluid teaming present two of the most perplexing challenges in digital adaptation. Simply put, the traditional workforce models and proven management approaches don’t work. How effectively you combine and recombine people will determine your success or failure in the digital world. Companies knee-deep in digital adaptation need to get comfortable with constant change and reinvention on the fly. To learn more about how to navigate this complex landscape, download our white paper on digital adaptation or read the blog series on this fundamental sea of change.

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