by Diana Bersohn, McCree Lake

CIOs must build adaptive IT workforces

Sep 20, 2017
CIOIT JobsIT Leadership

Todayu2019s IT workforce must be agile and able to adapt to the businessu2019s evolving needs. Here are three things CIOs can do ensure their teams can do that.

The workforce is the lifeblood of any IT organization, but several factors are disrupting the nature of IT work, including how work will be performed, when and by whom.

New technologies are emerging every day, and businesses want to quickly take advantage of those new capabilities. Silos within and amongst organizations are dissolving, making it easier to share resources and leverage talent from inside and outside the organization. Demand for resources continually fluctuates and businesses need a more flexible, on-demand workforce that can scale up or down as needed.

Traditional workforce models aren’t built to manage the shifting scope and warp speed of change happening today. To adapt, IT organizations must pursue new approaches to finding the right talent that can drive innovation in IT.

That is a very real challenge for many. In fact, when asked to name the top challenges their company needed to overcome to succeed in its digital transformation, “acquire, develop and retain digital talent” was the top response among 34 percent of executives, according to an Accenture report.

The answers lie in designing a new kind of IT workforce — one that is agile, adaptive and strongly positioned to support the organization as the tides continue to shift. 

Technology changes influence skill set requirements and the timing of demand for specific skills

As technology evolves, so do expectations for the services that IT organizations will deliver, as well as the speed at which they will be delivered. IT leaders need to move quickly to provide the right skills to manage artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, analytics and more.

Some of these skills are needed on only a short-term basis. For instance, if an organization is migrating to the cloud or leveraging cloud to accelerate M&A activities, IT will need specific talent to transition legacy applications.

CIOs must determine how to source talent and organize in a way to satisfy the needs of the business and deliver ongoing value.

Meeting various business needs requires shifting gears

Business operating models are becoming multi-speed as each part of the business moves at a different pace. Organizations have adopted multi-speed IT strategies to support their increasingly dynamic operations, but all the while, they’ve maintained an inflexible talent strategy. IT talent strategies must evolve to be multi-speed and agile to support the strategic goals of diverse groups across the business.

Just as IT takes an agile approach to development, it can apply the same approach to talent, following a flexible and adaptive approach to shaping the workforce. IT departments might consider internal crowdsourcing as a means to meet fluctuating business needs. Crowdsourcing allows the business to quickly capture differentiated ideas and innovative thinking, and it allows workers to contribute in new ways and be inspired by their work.

The right talent to drive innovation may come from a variety of sources

No single IT organization has all the talent it needs to go it alone. Therefore, the future IT workforce will include talent from ecosystem partners, such as academic institutions, associations and other businesses, that offer a deeper pool of specialized skills that can augment existing capabilities.

Furthermore, IT can tap into talent marketplaces and platforms that offer freelancers who can be quickly plugged in to meet a need. Rather than having to make a costly full-time commitment, IT can reduce risk, eliminate long-term dependency and capture value without increasing costs.

3 strategies for building an adaptive future workforce

CIOs can play an instrumental role in shaping an adaptive future workforce by doing the following:

  1. Aligning talent with need. Assess and quantify the value of work activities and identify which roles are best suited for a flexible “liquid” role versus a fixed, full-time position. After identifying the highest potential for on-demand talent, source those roles via internal or external talent marketplaces. Internal marketplaces are more viable for larger organizations, since they require the ability to create capacity amongst the existing workforce.
  2. Trying new approaches. Talk is good, but action is better. Rather than focusing on organizational structures, concentrate on roles and capabilities. Take steps to explore pilots, such as ecosystem partnerships, that can create capacity when and where needed to drive value, including for limited timeframes. Some interesting new approaches include the use of “squads.” These autonomous groups focus on a specific function, and they have their own workspaces. While they are independent, they interact with other small groups to form a “tribe” that works together like a miniature startup.
  3. Establishing new ways of working and digitize training. Work will increasingly be organized around projects and modularized technology output. For instance, organizations may create business and technology teams focused on specific chunks of work that can then be redeployed as a unit in another area. Organizations will offer training that meets the needs of individuals, and they will deliver it in a way that is accessible (online) to encourage continuous learning, e.g., short, consumable technology-specific online learning modules composed of different digital media.

Change occurs every day in IT, so the workforce must be change-ready. The new IT future workforce is flexible, adaptive and designed to be a strategic partner to the business and be a catalyst for ongoing innovation.