Must We Mind the [IT Skills] Gap for Digital Transformation?
Simon Ratcliffe Principal Consultant, Advisory
A recent Cloud Industry Forum survey illustrated that 25% of organisations believe that a digital skills shortage is preventing or delaying them from successfully executing their digital transformation strategy. A staggering 81% of CIOs believe that they need to recruit new staff to obtain the skills that they require. But is this really a valid issue or is it symptomatic of a wider problem within organisations today?
Keeping pace with change
The pace at which technology changes has always led to skills gaps as organisations and staff attempt to keep pace with the change. This is not a new issue but there is currently a wider change than simply the technology that is taking place.
This wider change is how we use technology, the ubiquity of technology and the reliance most organisations have on technology. These strands all fall under the culture of an entire organisation rather than simply the skills required to create, manage or operate technology.
Technology is now an integral part of most aspects of our lives but there are clear and obvious distinctions in how different generations embrace technology and how they allow it into their lives.
These differences are equally apparent in the workplace and are further magnified by corporate constraints such as security, compliance and the sheer scale on which change may need to be implemented to be successful.
Accounting for legacy systems
Organisational IT also must account for legacy systems, those often-vital elements of IT that underpin many of the core functions of the organisation. These are often not modern, cloud based, web accessible solutions but they represent a vital component within many organisations.
The new technology that is emerging brings with it new ways of working, both within the core IT function but also across the wider business. As these new ways of working become more ingrained in our behaviour, we must also ensure we comply with organisational requirements. There is often tension between how people want to work and what they perceive as constraints imposed by corporate rules.
Within IT, the emergence of more agile approaches to working, the widespread adoption of automation, the demand from business for more rapid delivery of solutions and the existence of more traditional legacy systems also drives a contention between behaviour patterns.
Some organisations attempt to alleviate this tension by adopting a Bimodal approach to their operation, separating Legacy Systems from modern, agile solutions and adopting different operational models against them. Unfortunately, whilst this may alleviate operational tensions it often creates inter-personal tensions between staff who see the two modes as the past and the future.
Skills alone are not the key
Technical skills can be learned, as they always have been but cultural change requires a far more wide-scale approach and must be driven from the Board. Simply importing people with technical skills will not enable digital transformation: on the contrary, it is likely to impede it further as such an import is highly unlikely to engender the level of cultural change required within most organisations.
Strong leadership is required to adapt an organisation to the modern technology world. It requires that the Board identifies the problem and establishes an appropriate response, but the identification of the problem is often the issue.
Maximising the benefits of modern technology requires change. But to effectively engender change, the Board must understand the impact of technology.
Board-level IT staff are becoming more common, but those with the ability to clearly articulate the technology in business terms are less common and without this voice at the Board table, the ability to establish a cultural change is severely impeded.
Many of the organisations who are successful in digital transformation are leading clearly from the Board and the Board themselves are using external advisors, often non-executive directors but increasingly commonly CIO advisors with the ability to understand the business, the people and the technology.
Technical skills and soft skills will always be required within any business but without a strong culture that reflects the changing world in which we live and work, these skills will become irrelevant.