Have you made professional new year’s resolutions for 2017?

Make some professional resolutions along with your personal resolutions this new year, and stay on track.

2017 resolutions
Thinkstock (Thinkstock)

We all do it. Make personal resolutions we manage to keep for a few shiny weeks into the new year. Exercise more. Eat healthier. Spend less time at the office and more time with the ones we love. Then that irresistible dessert comes along at a dinner party, or a big project gets dropped in your lap at work, and all bets are off.  

But what about professional resolutions? Your list may be extensive, so prioritization is essential to staying on track as you work your way through it. As a help for your prioritization efforts, I’ve compiled this list of three “chart topper” IT issues gleaned from conversations with customers, peers and industry grapevine discussions. My hope is that this initial list helps you get 2017 started in the most productive way possible.

Closing the IT talent gap

You knew the tech talent shortage would top the list, right? Since the start of the recession in 2007, computer and mathematical fields added jobs more rapidly than any other category. Back then, those with degrees in computer science, mathematics or statistics had unemployment rates of 3.5 percent compared to 10 percent nationally. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects by 2020 we’ll generate 4.2 million new jobs in computing and IT. Despite this growth, McKinsey and Co. predicts the United States could face a shortfalls of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills and 1.5 million managers with effective data-driven decision-making skills. Our appetite for skilled IT professionals is growing, and our need for data scientists has never been stronger because of initiatives like machine learning and the internet of things (more on the IoT below). But, the supply of fresh talent isn’t keeping pace with demand by a long shot.

What to do? Work with your team now to foster analytical fluency. Actively participating in that training offers two benefits: Your get smarter, and you lead by example. As far as hiring is concerned, market hires are great, but consider identifying talent presently inside your organization, too. Focus efforts on providing those emerging IT leaders with the training and education they need to become skilled data scientists. The benefits of this approach are many: Insiders already know your organization’s quirks and politics. Plus, trusted team members can model analytical behavior for others in the organization and measurably enrich your analytical culture.

Keeping data secure and compliant

Data protection and privacy are in a transitional era. Compared to a more traditional sector like financial services, it’s an under-regulated market because it’s still emerging in some ways. It will undoubtedly take a few years, but the data industry will be a mature, regulated market in the future. That said, keeping data secure now regardless of where you and your customers reside is critical. But the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes full effect in May 2018, moves things up a notch. Reminiscent of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 for accounting and investor protection practices, GDPR deals with personal data protection, where the data resides and who can gain access to it. If your company deals with the personal data of European customers, regardless of where you’re headquartered, this affects you. GDPR promotes techniques like anonymization and encryption, and the penalties are stiff. If you don’t comply, administrative fines can be as much as 4 percent of global turnover or €20,000,000 (whichever is greater). That detail alone wakes up most companies.

What to do? While some organizations have serious concerns about GDPR, there’s no reason to go into lockdown mode. GDPR is an update to the existing 1995 European Data Protection Directive, which set the stage for personal data protection. The rules will be tighter with GDPR, but the basic principles remain the same. It may be helpful to think of it in terms of the GDPR bringing transparency and harmonized rules to the EU. Here are four things to keep top-of-mind with GDPR:

  • The regulations come with stricter law enforcement. But put focus on developing a culture that ranks data privacy as a business imperative instead of fearing the fines. 
  • It makes organizations accountable for the protection of personal data, and it underscores the importance of bringing in somebody — internally or externally — who knows how to make changes and apply the law.
  • It brings about “privacy by design” for organizations, meaning new products and processes need to be developed with data privacy and protection measures baked in from the start.
  • It places the customer at the center of the data protection equation, which leads to developing or enhancing the level of trust customers have in your organization’s ability to keep their personal data secure.

Jumping on the IoT bandwagon for the right reasons

The very nature of the internet of things (IoT) transforms the business of data management. Low-cost of sensors and affordable data storage contribute to the transformation. But the real game-changer is streaming as a way to ingest data. Extract, transform and load (ETL) becomes transform on load (ToL) in the IoT-iverse. Pulling data off the network and analyzing it live gives a business immediate insight. But having insight is meaningless unless it’s matched to a strategic objective, whether that’s moving a fleet of trucks over the road with minimal breakdowns, keeping an electrical power grid up and running in a heat wave, or making a meaningful real-time offer to an online shopper before they check out.

What to do? First ask, “What outcome are we looking for?” then execute toward that goal. Take baby steps to get started. For example, if you’re a retailer looking to better connect with consumers, start with modeling, simulating the outcome, and managing dataflow. Adding sensors like beacons and RFID tags will be the easy part. Use that analysis to respond to customer needs more immediately and build sales and customer loyalty. Build momentum with projects that are easy wins, then move on to the next project.

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