The Importance of e-leadership in the digital economy

No one doubts that today’s digital technology is moving at such a breakneck pace that it is difficult to keep up. In certain sectors, like the gaming and ICT industry, they cannot afford not to keep up. But other sectors may not appreciate this and could be missing out on opportunities.

Disruptive business models and technology will definitely create new opportunities . In the past the Internet was one of the biggest disruptive technologies, and although it shook business models from top to bottom, it created so many global opportunities that today most successful companies cannot survive without it. But a technology trend does not have to be something large to be disruptive. It can be something that starts small but its use brings a radical change to business, increased success in the market, and a better place for business and investment.

It is envisaged that innovation, through emerging digital technology, and Key enabling technologies will bring a transformational impact to the business world and society. This will push up the needs for ICT, research and development Iwould leave these in capsand the digital skills needed to be able to grow and flourish. In this context we are not referring to digital skills of ICT professionals only, but also of other disciplines. One of the essential needed skills that stands out is e-leadership skills, through which the best value is taken by exploiting technological innovations. Of course the e-leadership skills required will very much depend on the type of technology. However, e-leadership skills are needed by ICT professionals and business leaders of every type. Both roles can exploit the best use by recognising the opportunity to increase competitiveness, reduction of cost or transformational change. We need e-leaders to take advantage of certain technology trends like big data, Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics or, as some call it, business analytics, cognitive systems, robotics and perhaps their convergence, to mention some. For example, Internet of Things (IoT) is not just the use of internet, but the using of internet technology, with cloud data, instantaneous information update to be able to carry out business analytics within a secure environment. Often this is done with a considerable reduction in costs. Of course IoT can also be other things, and certain vendors align it to their technology. But imagine the consequences if an e-leader managed to convince a company to transform their processes to this level.

It is estimated that Europe will need an additional 200,000 innovation e-leaders by 2020. Without concerted action by all the stakeholders Europe will not be in a position to meet this requirement. Every country has a lot to do. But what is e-leadership? And what can be done to achieve this? What is the EU doing to create this environment?

E-leadership concepts

The International Society of Service Innovation Professionals (ISSIP) promotes a T-Shaped model for professionals to be able to be ready for future innovations. In 2016, the ‘T-Summit’ brought together various sectors, from government to industry, including academia to discuss T-shaped professionals, and how the various stakeholders can help to instigate policy direction, curriculum changes, and transform employee behaviour in order to create T-Shaped professionals, or e-leaders.

A career best built for e-leaders would be such that the individual will have breadth of knowledge and/or experience (top of the ‘T’ in the diagram) with a depth of a recognised discipline (the ‘I’ in the ‘T’ in the diagram). The T-Shaped model is used in e-leadership when describing digital leadership skills. These are the skills required to take advantage of innovative technology.

The T-Shape paradigm is used in conjunction with the e-leadership Skills triangle. The triangle describes the potential skills required by an individual to be able to take advantage of digital innovation. The e-leadership triangle is made up of three sections.

  • Strategic leadership is a cross-disciplinary skill to lead resources and influence stakeholders across boundaries
  • Business savvy skills will be able to locate business opportunities and processes that deliver the highest value for business.
  • Digital savvy skills will be able to drive change for business by exploiting the digital technology trends.

There is not only one way of developing e-leaders but several. The ingredients come from knowledge, experience, and attitude. An e-leader may come from the ICT arena or from another discipline but it is involved with influencing digital decisions (eg financial controllers, business executives)

Starting from education and training, the curriculum is best aligned to e-leadership. The best practice for this is the interaction between academics and industry representatives, so that we produce the best crop of students for e-leadership. It must be noted however that not everyone is an e-leader and we still need the experts and engineers.

Industry must also do its part by providing the time and clear direction in education, as well as upgrading some of their employees to become e-leaders. These resources would have vast experience, and building up their knowledge would complement their experience in becoming an e-leader.

e-Learning Triangle

How should we develop e-leadership

It is not enough to say that educationalists and industrialists should get together to implement tasks to increase e-leadership in a country. Hence, that is why a number of best practices have been identified as important to create an e-leadership eco-system. These actions usually fall under four broad categories, namely e-Leadership governance, adoption of a skills Framework and best practices, educational and training programme development, and policy actions. Each group will then include a number of initiatives which could vary by economy sector and country. Some of the these include:

  1. The broad adoption and promotion of e-leadership and its guidelines.
  2. The fostering of the right transparent certification structures for e-leadership.;
  3. The implementation of governance for the proper assessment and monitoring of e-leadership skills.
  4. The setting up of online services for helping in the development of e-leadership skills for learners, training and educational institutions.
  5. The cooperation between EU member states to share best practices.
  6. The implementation of e-leadership training through far-reaching and quick methods like Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) or blended learning.
  7. The use of the European standard e-competency framework which fosters e-leadership in various roles and to keep it updated on the subject.
  8. Extend e-leadership to SMEs, consulting, and the self-employed.
  9. Keep a continuous dialogue between the relevant stakeholders, to make sure that new skills needed by the economy are captured, and updated into the e-leadership requirements.
  10. Monitor the gap between the supply and demand of e-leadership skills.

The above guidelines are not exhaustive, but they are a good start. They should also be refined, and focused according to the economy sector. It is very comforting to notice that most EU countries are implementing various different initiatives to increase e-leadership. However there is still a lack of coordinated action and monitoring on the subject due to fear of disruptions. Sharing best practices would be a way to reduce these fears.

EU initiatives

The EU Commission had already started way back in 2013 with an e-leadership skills initiative in large organisations, and extended it to SMEs in 2014. However, this is an ongoing process, and the Commission has recently commissioned a consortium of partners to develop an agenda on e-leadership for the tech economy. This is supported by subject experts and workshops, in which Malta is also contributing.

These EU initiatives have triggered various activities by stakeholders and policy makers in various EU member states. These have been monitored and benchmarked by multi-stakeholder partnerships. Special focus is being given to education and training.

The EU-28 scoreboard compiled by Empirica in 2015 monitors the e-leadership eco-system in the 28 EU member states. Through this, EU member countries can monitor their own performance, and identify the role models they can follow to improve their e-leadership performance. Indeed, the recently launched Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition promotes the ‘shared-concept’ model where member states can share best practices. The scoreboard is split into four groups: Group 1 represents more than 35% below the EU average; Group 2 less than 35% below the EU Average; Group 3 represents less than 35% above EU Average; Group 4 represents more than 35% above the EU Average. Malta is currently placed in Group 3 due to the friendly national policies on start-ups, and the mix of high digital activities with entrepreneurship.

The EU Commission is currently preparing a new policy direction, which will focus on defining the vision for e-leadership, developing curricula and fostering e-leadership skills. This will be developed in collaboration with stakeholders and it will lead to recommendations for implementing tasks at EU and national level.

Experts believe that the wide availability of e-leadership skills is an absolute requirement if Europe is to compete. Therefore, locally, we are looking forward to this challenge, taking into consideration our small state advantages and limitations.

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