by Ade McCormack

Countdown to a highly skilled IT function

Jun 21, 20126 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

I recently facilitated a forum on skills for the ‘New Industrial Revolution’ for the European commission in Brussels. The objective was to brief the ministers in attendance on what needs to be done to steer Europe out of its economic nosedive.

Many of the points covered are relevant to IT leaders and these are laid out in this article. What follows are the top 10 actions you need to take to ensure your talent pipeline does not dry up. So straight in at number ten:

10    Engage with government The self-interests of some politicians far exceed their motivation to benefit the society they are elected to serve. Now that we all have to dig deeper to deliver more for less, we need to bring the politicians into the discussion to ensure they set policies appropriate to ensuring your nation’s capability to meet the skills demands of the digital economy.  A lack of coordination in this respect will eventually impact your competitiveness.

9    Engage with academe If your supplier is not delivering what you want you would typically go elsewhere. The same is true for major employers. If the talent pipeline runs to a trickle or is simply delivering the wrong talent, they will leave town. Whether you are a global giant or a one-site operation, you need to talk to your suppliers (read schools, colleges and universities) to guide them in producing the talent needed to help business and society thrive in the digital economy.

8    Grow energy / green skills IT is often perceived as a principal offender in respect of energy consumption. Whilst IT is a significant user of energy, it is very likely that IT will be the saviour in respect of optimising our use of the earth’s natural resources. Smart grids and appliances will see the eventual convergence of IT and energy, which in my opinion will have a bigger impact than the convergence of IT and Telecoms.  We need technologists who are equipped to drive on this.

7    Systemise creativity Innovation shouldn’t be an issue for technologists who typically spend a significant amount of their time creating solutions. However this has typically been seen as a skill variable that is characteristic of the person observed. The reality is that innovation is underpinned by creativity and there are a number of tried and tested approaches to being creative. A formalised approach in this respect will eliminate the hit and miss aspects of relying on the ‘natural’ innovativeness associated with each of your staff.

6    Create entrepreneurs The days of IT workers ‘hermetically sealed’ within the IT function protected from the cold winds of commercial reality are over. The IT function needs to behave as a service-oriented business and so do the staff. The skills associated with demand generation, making things happen and commercially sensible delivery are not typically woven into the formal education of information technologists.

5    Prepare for change In a highly connected and volatile market, the ability to change strategy, applications and infrastructure in line with the latest market needs is imperative. Thus much of what happens within the IT function will have a change element to it. Thus everyone in the IT function needs to understand the impact of change on the organisation and the service you provide. This includes how to operate successfully during periods of significant upheaval.

4    Focus on your strongest people Since the mid-1970s, national skills policies have focused on ensuring the disadvantaged are not left behind as part of a compassionate agenda. This approach has failed. Whilst at a government level we should not ignore our social responsibilities, we need to focus our attention on our ‘A team’ to ensure our organisation remains competitive in the global arena.

3    Go beyond management Managers exist to make sure the job gets done on time and to the required specification. In the IT industry, we are very comfortable with task-based management.  However we need to inspire our people and this means occasionally stepping away from the Gantt chart and taking an interest in others. The creation of an ‘esprit de corps’ is not typically covered in the personal development plan of IT function managers.

2    But don’t ignore management There is an increasing pressure for the academic world to produce skilled people for consumption in government and industry. But unless these people are harnessed by strong management their potential will be dissipated. Management is a skill and it needs to be developed. Your people should not be appointed to a management role on the basis that they have been around the longest or seem to have a greater flair for administration than technology.

1    Create a skills framework In my view, this is the most important action CIOs need to take. All skills initiatives need to be driven by a framework, which integrates skills related decision making with investment and service decisions. Thus you grow your team on the basis of the impact it has on the user experience. This is particularly important if you are considering a major investment to improve the service.

You also need to have a governance model in place which involves your HR function to ensure that you have an appropriate skills portfolio in place. If the portfolio is under performing, the question of what remedial action needs to be taken becomes paramount.

Given that people are an expensive asset in terms of remuneration and management overhead, it is worth taking a proactive people-oriented approach to running your IT function.

Whilst you can delegate the purchasing of stationery to the procurement function, it would be unwise to ‘abdicate’ the people aspect of your IT function to your HR department.

If taking an involved approach to building and managing your team is not a priority for you, then it is worth adding yourself to your elegantly crafted risk register spreadsheet.

About the author: Ade McCormack is a Financial Times columnist, speaker and adviser on the digital economy (

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