It’s a dangerous time for companies betting heavily on digital transformation. They need tech workers with both savvy business skills and a deep understanding of emerging technologies. The kick in the gut, though, is a massive talent shortage with lots of unqualified candidates polluting the pool.

Simply put, companies won’t be able to pull off digital transformation without the right technical people. In a TEKsystems survey, 95 percent of digital marketers said they’ve been negatively impacted due to a lack of available qualified talent. 

Now Cisco plans to fill the gap by bringing digital transformation skills to its vaunted certification program. In doing so, it hopes to capture some of the excitement from more recent entrants, such as Amazon’s AWS Certified Solutions Architect and ISACA’s Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control. (Last month, Cisco announced a new certification, called Customer Success Manager.)

Related: Zero One: Cross Training in Digital Transformation, Round 1

We sat down with Learning@Cisco’s Tejas Vashi, senior director of product strategy and marketing, and Antonella Corno, senior manager of product strategy, to learn how Cisco is evolving its certification program. The first round of the interview focused on bringing business skills into the mix, while the second round below tackles the technical side.

Can you describe the gap in digital transformation and the technical skills needed to pull it off?

Vashi: Just between 2017 and 2020, IDC predicts that $6.3 trillion might be spent on digital business transformation across the world. According to Gartner, half the CEOs they've polled said their industries will be impacted or transformed by digital. Only 16 percent of organizations feel they have the right talent place, according to Forrester. In this digital arena or digital economy, we need to have folks that have the different experiences to drive this digital workforce.

What exactly are those skills?

Vashi: They need a ton of interdisciplinary skills. They need to understand things like automation and network programmability, Internet of Things, mobility, securing the entire infrastructure, virtualization, cloud, data and analytics, big data. There's technology training, product-related training, solutions training, and then things applicable to certain verticals. And so we’ve added new skills to the curriculum – the new DNA, or digital network architecture.

Corno: There are a lot of fire codes within Cisco to build end-to-end digital infrastructure supporting this digital transformation. That is what Cisco calls DNA. We build a curriculum around it because that's a solution that needs a lot of design components – from security to automation to, of course, infrastructure, and so forth.

Vashi: In this digital economy where things move so quickly, you and I might have the same certification. We both might be CCIEs, Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts, in security, but because you work in a financial institute and I work in the manufacturing vertical, what we care about might be different. There might be a different security landscape or security threats that your organization has to be concerned about.

Related: I Pray You, Remember the CIO

We might also be in different phases in our digital transformation. My digital transformation might be moving from SCADA and traditional protocols to modernizing my plant floor versus what you're challenged with in being able to support customers through better applications. We both need to understand general foundational requirements, but beyond that it's important to make sure learning paths are customizable and specific to an individual's job and career interests.

Artificial intelligence has been called a must-have technology skill. Do you have AI in your training program?

Corno: We have it in our radar. In a certain way, it is embedded in some of our concepts. But remember, we don't really go after the buzzwords. We’re continuously analyzing what the real gaps are in the industry, then work on filling them. There’s a nice balance between pushing people ahead of where they are, but at the same time, not being so far out that people don't see the value. With AI and things like that, I'll be honest with you, the people in the industry are quite not there yet.

In digital transformation, some consider marketing tech the tip of the spear. Where does marketing tech fit in?

Vashi: Absolutely. We are looking at things like digital marketing, innovation, technical program management. These are all skills in a transforming digital environment, and we have a bigger emphasis on them. Not all of our customers, and to an extent some of our partners, are completely there yet.

With digital transformation, it seems like technology is moving faster than ever. How do you keep up?

Vashi: New products, new features, new capabilities are being introduced very quickly, so from a training enablement standpoint, we have to make sure individuals get access to the latest training and content. You can't just build training and let it sit on the shelf a couple of years before you refresh it. Those days are gone. Some technologies are evolving every two to three months. There's new major feature sets. Current content is very critical.

With this fast-paced environment, people need convenience in order to access this content. If you look at some of the folks in the workforce today, you're seeing that especially the younger generation wants to be able to access training not just in an instructor-led fashion but anytime, anywhere through whatever modalities they choose. Whether it's self-pay, self-study, e-learning, digital access, hands-on, virtualized labs, or even sitting through an instructor-led class.

The last piece is continuous learning. (This week, Cisco announced the Continuing Education Program for certified IT professionals looking to add skills with the latest technologies, such as network programmability, Internet of Things and cloud.)

It's not about, "Well, yeah, I got certified, and now I’ll go take another class in a few years." Now it’s like, "I've got to learn something today; I've got to be able to do something different tomorrow.”

CHECK OUT PART 1 OF CROSS-TRAINING IN DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Based in Silicon Valley, Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is eager to hear how digital transformation is impacting your business. You can reach him at tom.kaneshige@penton.com.