by Diana Bersohn, McCree Lake

3 steps to reimagining your tech workforce in the AI age

Jul 26, 2018
Digital TransformationIT JobsIT Leadership

Artificial intelligence is significantly changing organizations. IT leaders must act now to ensure their teams can handle this digital transformation. Here are three ways they can start.

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Credit: Thinkstock

There’s no denying the disruption that technologies like cloud and mobile have made in the recent past. But artificial intelligence (AI) is bringing changes to organizations and society that are on a whole new level. According to Accenture Strategy research, 78 percent of executives believe AI will disrupt their industry over the next three years and transform the nature of competition. What does that then mean for the technology workforce and technology skills in organizations? (Note: We are employees at Accenture.)

Executives have long recognized that the IT workforce is on the front lines of disruption. This holds true in the age of AI. Eighty-five percent of IT executives — and 83 percent of their business counterparts — say their company’s IT workforce is a competitive advantage. This C-suite consensus presents IT leaders with an opportunity to act as a catalyst for enterprise-wide transformation.

One of the biggest challenges facing IT executives in this transformation is the need to recognize and fill skills gaps quickly and effectively to keep pace with the scale, speed, and scope of technology change. Eighty percent of executives expect the IT workforce to change dramatically over the next three years. And 82 percent believe that the skills required and how they source talent will evolve, too.

Filling skills gaps

The first step in filling skills gaps is identifying them. However, in the era of human-machine collaboration, pinpointing skills gaps is becoming increasingly complex. Not only will IT organizations need new technology skills, but they will also require additional uniquely human skills as IT roles and responsibilities continue to evolve. Human-centered skills such as problem solving, judgment, communication, and empathy will be critical for organizations to succeed at human-machine collaboration.

Among the human roles that are evolving is the software developer. With smart machines automating code creation and minimizing bugs, developers can focus on outcomes, ultimately becoming more accountable for meeting business objectives. Take project managers and scrum masters as another example. Today they oversee a wide range of administrative processes. With AI facilitating or augmenting many of these transactional tasks, these workers can shift their focus to engaging development teams and business stakeholders around the strategic intent and business drivers of the programs or products they manage.

3 ways to transform IT organizations

AI is already a catalyst for significant change for companies and their IT organizations. To address this transformation head on, technology leaders need to transform, as well. Here are three ways to start:

1. Reimagine the IT organizationand ways of working 

IT organizations should examine work at a task-based level – not a “job-based one” – to understand what machines and humans can do most effectively and how machines can best complement humans in their jobs. The design of the IT organization will follow. This could mean using AI for security, operations and service desk, while engaging people to focus on customer-focused and creative tasks.

IT organizations can also drive outcomes and speed-to-market by reorganizing technical and business roles into product-focused teams. Companies are doing this now with small, cross-functional teams, or “domains,” that develop product, service or customer journeys, pooling resources from across business and technology. With design thinking and rapid prototyping, IT can explore the viability of ideas and rapidly scale the best ones.

To make these changes stick, IT leaders must cultivate a culture focused on business outcomes and agility, as well as encourage a new leadership DNA where people at all levels are empowered to make decisions.

2. Scale up new skills 

Addressing skills gaps will be an ongoing exercise for technology leaders. One way to tackle current challenges is by embarking on pilots with select emerging technologies and periodically reviewing and prioritizing the skills required to fully scale them. This is a practical way to stay on top of technology changes and continually refine the skills mix.

To build new skills — both technical and human-centered — companies can also take advantage of modern tools such as learning boards. These digital platforms have evolved beyond top-down, one-size-fits-all training. People customize their own experiences based on their tasks and desired career paths. Ideally, the learning experience mimics the social experience. People can like, recommend, and comment on content, as well as follow relevant trends among peer groups and communities.

3. Build talent ecosystems

IT organizations can make the most of talent ecosystems by taking a sky’s-the-limit approach to how they think about and create them. To tap in-house talent, IT should create an internal company-wide ecosystem, using digital platforms and crowdsourcing to solve problems collectively.

When it comes to external talent ecosystems, the guiding principle should be to think big and act boldly. IT leaders should develop relationships that help broaden their network so that they have a bigger talent pool from which to source scarce talent. Academic partnerships, apprenticeship programs — and even gaming conventions, which draw individuals with unique technology skills — can be rich sources for both technical and human-centered skills. For example, Accenture leverages academic partnerships to collaborate on technology innovation, as well as trains talent on new skills. Additionally, our research found that 46 percent of executives say their company is likely to acquire a company to obtain specialized skills. This “acqui-hire” trend is taking hold across many industries.

AI has set a new standard for relentless technology change that will only accelerate. The key for IT leaders is to have a strategy that optimizes the right kind of work to the right kind of talent sources and at the right scale. This will maximize the business value that companies receive from AI and other horizon technologies while empowering IT functions to continue to lead the charge on disruption. The time to develop the future IT workforce is now.