A common garden bird offers some ideas for survival in the digital age, according to the Confederation of British Industry.

Issuing a rallying cry for companies to fast track their spending on new technologies, Felicity Burch, Director of Innovation and Digital at the CBI said businesses should become “digital magpies.” Examining competitors, cherry picking their best ideas and absorbing them effectively will be key to shoring up the future, she said.

“Digital transformation is the journey that all businesses have to go on,” Burch told delegates at the Tata Consultancy Services Innovation Forum in London. “Skills are the key, and businesses should come together to share what works and unlock the innovation of our future.”

While it’s getting easier to act like a magpie, TCS research shows few companies are embracing such a way forward, and a key sticking point is fostering and developing digital skills.

This represents “one big challenge to rule them all,” Burch said. Getting the right combination of technological and commercial skills is key, the central challenge is getting people who have the know-how to understand and commercialize the cutting-edge technologies.


Felicity Burch, Director of Innovation and Digital at the CBI addresses the TCS Innovation Forum

UK business is at a tipping point, with demand for talent already outstripping supply and set to skyrocket. Incubating and encouraging digital-skills development sits at the core of TCS, and one of its initiatives is a partnership with the CBI to understand how needs are changing and how best to tackle the challenge.

The latest research report shows more than two thirds of businesses are already reporting unfilled digital skills needs and less than a third are confident that they will be able to fill them in the next three-to-five years.

Here are five ways companies can futureproof their workforce:

1 – Secure your digital vision

Be clear about what you want digital to achieve for your company. Too often businesses get distracted by the latest possibilities or capabilities and this pulls them away from their core strategy. “The most successful magpies are really, really clear on their digital vision,” Burch said.

2 – Adopt a company-wide skills programme

Breaking down internal silos is key in this area, and Burch underscored the importance of bringing all parts of the business together to map what skills are needed, where they are needed and what priority they are, ultimately formulating training plans for all.

3 – Shop internally

Engage employees in the future of their careers, encourage them to take ownership of their digital skills training. Burch said some companies have already set up digital-skills councils. Once the digital vision of the company is clear, it becomes easier to encourage employees to embrace the skills that align with that, she said.

4 – Collaborate externally

Working together with firms in your ecosystem and your customers to co-ordinate training activities can be an effective way to foster skills. It can also be helpful to engage with local enterprise partnerships, and local bodies, as well as educational institutions.

5 – Inspire and engage

This is about working with young people. Burch outlined how CBI research shows that just a handful of engagements with a young person can make them less likely to end up unemployed across the whole of their lifetime.  “There is a really key role to step up and talk to young people and explain to them what the world of work is going to look like and how exciting it is going to be,” she said.

Upskilling and reskilling the workforce is a recognised prerogative for companies around the globe and central to TCS’s strategy. At the Innovation Forum, TCS executives outlined how, as a leading employer of young talent in the U.K., the company is working to inspire a generation of talent to drive the growth and transformation in the next decade and beyond.

All firms need to broaden their strategies, Burch said.

“Skills are the key,” she said. “Your competitors are not complacent. Your competitors are companies around the world who are all investing more and investing faster.”