by Diana Bersohn

How CIOs can create the IT workforce of the future

Jun 25, 2015
CIO IT Leadership Technology Industry

Today’s businesses are more dependent on technology than ever. For CIOs this is a change-or-be-changed scenario -- a call to action to guide their businesses and shape the IT workforce.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Today, more than ever, businesses are dependent on technology to drive transformations that are anything but incremental. For CIOs, that means a tremendous opportunity to guide and help their businesses harness technology to realize the multiplier effect that new technologies offer as well as their digital ambitions.

The shape their new IT organization takes will vary based on three factors: innovation, the changing nature of their work and an expanding talent ecosystem.

Evolving innovation ownership

CIOs are in the best position to help their peers across the business select technologies and maximize the benefit that can be gained from them. However, recent Accenture research found that only 34 percent of companies expect the IT organization to be the main generator of innovation, less than half of the 71 percent of two years ago.  

That shift reflects a growing number of “new IT” workers who work across the business, with strong technology acumen and skills that enable innovation to happen with or without the IT organization. For IT leaders, this underscores a need to seek out and orchestrate alliances with peers across the business and to position themselves as innovation “drivers” and architects.”

Many CIOs are beginning to embrace this new workforce opportunity, allowing and, in fact, encouraging lines to blur between IT and the business. For instance, an analytics professional may be identified to provide IT support for a digital initiative, thereby forging a partnership with that part of the business while meeting its own needs.

Balancing the new skills trifecta requirements

Business, digital and technology are priorities that must be balanced as the demands of IT evolve from the management of programs and software development to the integration of hybrid technologies, including legacy and cloud, into relevant business services. In today’s digital world, technology is increasingly used to enable innovative business products and services. For example, an agricultural business may use sensors and analytics to map data from farmland to improve crop yields or a chemical company might use wireless devices to manage the safety of employees working with hazardous chemicals.

As traditional design, build and run programs morph into service assembly and integration, CIOs must help their IT workforce adapt to new roles as integrators of enterprise systems and processes and as custodians of data, integrity, resilience and consistency.

Upskilling will be needed as the IT workforce shifts its focus to how work is delivered and by whom. Attracting and sourcing new talent will be critical. Additionally, employees will increasingly work alongside intelligent machines, and will need to be trained to successfully collaborate in this way.  

As technology is becoming pervasive, stronger and richer financial analysis and analytics, vendor management and business relationship skills as well as new capabilities associated with digital businesses will be as important as technology acumen in sourcing a new talent set.

Expanding the talent ecosystem

Managing the IT workforce is also more challenging in today’s evolving digital enterprises. Globalization of the workforce is creating broad cultural and demographic shifts, leading to a renewed focus on talent diversity. Talent recruitment must appeal to a new breed of IT workers who are drawn to innovation and variety. Their roles must be expanded to encompass business and market-savvy knowledge and experience rather than simply technology development and legacy support skills. Companies need to adapt their brands and “up their game” to attract these very different profiles of talents as the needs of the business change.

As IT workers engage with workforces who are geographically distributed and highly mobile, collaboration is increasingly important. Crowdsourcing with customers and suppliers is among the innovative techniques that should be considered to share ideas.

Transforming the IT workforce

With IT organizations awash in changes driven by digital, CIOs need to question everything about their organization. How is it perceived across the enterprise? Is the organizational structure appropriately responsive to the business? How does it need to change? Does the organization have the right knowledge and skills to be competitive? Answers to those questions can help guide the new IT organization’s structure, governance and interaction models to make the best use of skills and capabilities across the ecosystem.

As the IT organization’s role is redefined, it should be positioned as one of data stewardship and a driver of critical enterprise technology functions, including business resilience. Ultimately, the CIO needs to construct a workforce, structure and culture that will orchestrate and drive innovation, working across the enterprise to create new technology solutions that enable a richer customer experience and foster business growth.

Shaping an IT workforce to manage and optimize both legacy and new IT services requires a savvy CIO who understands the options that are available while weighing such questions as: How many internal employees are needed and where? How can I structure my organization to flexibly handle peaks and valleys in the workload?

While answering those questions and factoring in ways to accelerate innovation, CIOs need to maintain a focus on legacy systems. That may require reskilling talent, teams and capabilities to create the flexibility and versatility needed to operate in a multispeed IT environment, driving legacy IT functions while creating new innovative IT services that can be brought to market more quickly and help the enterprise realize its potential in the complex and changing digital world.      

Adopting a new IT workforce mindset

Make no mistake; the changes will not be incremental. CIOs will require the following:

  • An assessment of existing IT skills and talent and gap analysis relative to future required skills.
  • A plan to reskill, attract and source talent to ensure the IT organization is poised to meet the demands of the business.
  • New career paths and roles, such as service design strategists or scrum masters who can serve as catalysts for converting traditional analogy approaches to digital ones.
  • Roles that are shared with the business and sourced from the larger ecosystem of talent.

While CIOs are orchestrating these changes, employees also need to know what is in it for them and take proactive steps to help facilitate the changes, whether that means training, more collaboration or even a different role on the team.

Change or be changed. Digital places IT at a critical juncture. CIOs need to shape the IT workforce of the future so they can execute their strategy and deliver the New IT.