by Ade McCormack

Don’t skill yourself short

Feb 22, 2010
CareersCloud ComputingData Center

You may or may not be aware that the European Commission has a campaign in progress that aims to raise awareness of the growing demand for highly skilled ICT practitioners and users within the industry. This will culminate in an ‘e-Skills Week’ in March. In relation to this I am writing a book called The e-Skills Manifesto – A Call to Arms. In preparing this book it has opened my eyes to the challenges we face as an industry and as a society. A recent study by IDC showed that in five years’ time only 10 per cent of the jobs in the EU will not require ICT skills. Couple that fact with an increasingly acute shortage of IT talent, then it is clear we are careering towards a serious problem. As a CIO you may feel this is not an issue for you given the economic pressure to get rid of staff rather than acquire them. Well here are a few things to consider. Your existing talent pool is overpaid for what it does. The further east you go, the cheaper the labour. Similarly, head westwards and you find that ICT staff again deliver greater economic productivity. This indicates a people management problem. It would be a mistake to fire off a stern email to the head of HR as this is your problem. There are a number of important trends that CIOs have to face. One is that technology is getting more modular and more intuitive to use. It’s been a long time since application developers have needed a good understanding of hardware architecture. In other words, technology tools are dumbing down the production of applications. Thus users will increasingly be the developers of applications, that is, if they decide not to whip out their Amex card and buy the service they require directly over the web. This all coincides quite neatly with the emergence of ‘generation-Y’ users who in many cases have an exulted perspective of their own technical prowess. The bottom line is that the IT function’s ability to play a strategically influential role in the organisation will not be constrained by the way the CIO deploys their people and technology, but by the way they manage the extended IT community, aka the users. So from a career-continuity perspective the sooner you grasp this nettle the better. Now that your remit covers every staff member in the organisation and that essentially every staff member (IT function or not) needs some degree of e-skills, it should soon dawn on you that sitting in the eye of the e-skills cyclone has given you a misplaced sense of peace.

So this is what needs to be done. Polish up your people management skills if necessary. Are you presiding over a highly effective technology army with a shared esprit de corps, or are you vaguely aware that you have line management responsibility over a highly dysfunctional, cost consuming, ADD-raddled collection of sociopathic user-haters? Two extremes indeed, but you need to be crystal clear where you are on the spectrum and then deal with it as necessary. Take ownership of user training. The idea of making this the responsibility of HR is of course a mistake. Do you really trust someone who neither understands what the system is supposed to do nor how it does it to sell your opus to the users? There is no reason for doing this unless you have a deep desire to punish your helpdesk. You can use this as the argument to extend your remit into the HR space. If you don’t, then the head of HR might start taking a look at your space. In writing the book, I noticed some of the issues that have slid down many of our agendas, including green IT and social inclusion. As an industry, we have overhyped green to the point of fatigue, and the need for a quick return on investment has pushed this off our radar. But as a CIO you should be at the heart of your organisation’s green initiatives, and this is another remit-extender from a career perspective. Social exclusion will be exacerbated by the increased pervasiveness of IT in business and society. There will come a point where a significant proportion of the unemployed become unemployable because they lack rudimentary IT skills. What’s to stop you donating a few laptops to the local library or leisure centre? You could also provide them with some storage and processing capability. The hardware could be configured for easy access to job boards, ECDL training plus any other relevant service. In fact with the helpdesk savings you make by taking control of system training you could donate some of that capacity to being available to the community via your sponsored telecentre. Again e-skills is an acute issue for everyone. As a CIO you are best placed to address this, if you yourself have the skills needed.