By Eric Berridge
Perhaps the term “revolution” is so overused in business that we have difficulty recognizing the gravity of the changes taking place. The revolution Thomas Friedman identified isn’t marketing speak — fundamental rules of business are being rewritten by technology. Business technology may not overtake human intelligence (as proposed by singularity theory), but it is creating an ability to collaborate that is unprecedented in human history. If innovation is the child of collaboration, we’re going to see some seriously wild stuff. Companies you previously thought were bullet proof will face existential threats, and ideas you dismissed as absurd will make billions. Will the future be good or bad? It depends on your company’s agility. Those who adapt will swim, while those who cling to old habits may sink. So try to keep an open mind, and prepare for the following:
Tip one: knowledge retention will become more important than talent retention
Leaders are freaking out about holding onto their best and brightest as the job market picks up. Let me save you some agony by telling you that a lot of your best people are going to leave no matter what you do, if for no other reason than demographic forces — such as baby boomers retiring en masse — will ensure a volatile workforce.
What you really need to think about is how to integrate each employee’s knowledge into the company’s “collective consciousness.” It may sound esoteric, but increasing use of collaborative and social tools is creating something eerily akin to a collective consciousness in business as every thought and data point is shared between colleagues.
How to swim: The real trick lies in implementing processes and tools to extract the most meaningful tidbits from the petabytes of conversation floating in the cloud. To a high degree, culture will determine success. Companies with a collaborative, non-siloed culture are much less likely to suffer brain drain when a staffer departs because all work — and knowledge — is shared as a team effort.
Tip two: it’ll be really difficult to hire developers with the right skills
Andrew McIlvaine reported the difficulty manufacturing companies are having hiring people with the specific skillsets, and largely attributed this to companies’ unwillingness to train. We’re seeing the emergence of a similar talent gap in IT, only here it is compounded by the fact that many critical skills in tech didn’t exist a year ago, making the expectation of drawing qualified applicants from a standard talent pool a tall order.
How to swim: Smart companies will recognize that the tech revolution is creating positions that are a hybrid of IT and traditionally separate business functions. Instead of following a wild goose chase for elusive skillsets, they’ll either invest in training, or leverage an “elastic” pool of specialists whose skills can be leveraged on an as-needed basis — or both.
Tip three: we’ll have to find another name for “applications”
Joe McKendrick nailed it in “We all now work for software companies” pointing to five traditional companies that are now so heavily invested in software that they’re practically indistinguishable from tech companies. Technology has crossed the Rubicon and is now so fully integrated into everyday life that IT as we know it is going to have to be redefined.
James Urquhart recently quoted Andi Mann, VP of strategic solutions at CA Technologies, as saying, “an app-centric view is still too IT-centric. For the business, the application is no more relevant than the infrastructure.” How true! We can now implement cloud-based solutions at a fraction of the time/cost of traditional software. Gone are the days of molding people’s work habits to applications you spent 2 years and $2M integrating. In 2012 and beyond, the application is only as good as its ability to make the employee’s job easier and boost company efficiency.
How to swim: Art Wittman listed in his IT leader survival guide for 2012 “Make IT managers spend 10% of time with internal and external customers,” pointing out that you’re not likely to get them returning from those meetings saying “yep, everything works about like we figured it did.” The only way IT is going to understand the needs of a business function is to take a deep dive into it. Have your people spend time in other departments, and train them on how to map technologies to business processes.
Tip four: end of the personal devices debate
For Gen Y — the generation taking over the workplace — personal devices are much more than a means to an end. IDC found that 95% of tech workers use their personal devices at work, and Rachel King reported a recent Cisco study indicating that “33% of college students and young employees under the age of 30 would prioritize social media freedom, device flexibility, and work mobility over salary in accepting a job offer.”
How to swim: There’s no point in trying to resist this tide. Rather, let the inevitable work for you by intertwining with personal communication. People are doing this anyway when they funnel their emails through Gmail. To those who persist in restricting access, I say to you good luck retaining the best and brightest. For that matter, good luck in attaining that sought after collaborative, innovative work culture of the 21st century.
Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book “Iterate or Die” along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.