by CIO Executive Council

3 Ways to Give Your IT Organization a Skills Tune-Up

Feb 25, 20134 mins
IT Skills

Three CIOs describe how they define and develop IT staff capabilities that keep pace with business needs

From tying core IT competencies to your business strategies, to creating demand by providing context, to offering career-building tools, three CIOs describe how they define and develop IT staff capabilitiess.

Carlos Garcia, CIO, Alvarez and Marsal: With a staff of just over 50 supporting 2,000 employees, our IT department has a rigorous cross-training program to enable 24/7 operations. We must react to IT issues on a moment’s notice, and we can’t be dependent on one individual to deliver specific support.

Our teams share knowledge and cross-train each other in different technologies so we don’t have a group of specialists who can only respond to certain incidents.

We strive to develop our IT training to support the business mission and link our business strategies with our core IT competencies. For example, because the business wants to grow and be flexible, we emphasize innovation in the IT group. We have a large mobile workforce, so we’ve ensured that IT can be innovative in application development and supporting mobile capabilities.

We have an annual process where we look at what technologies we will deploy the following year. We then decide who will have the primary or secondary role for that technology; if new skills are needed, we put the appropriate training on the employee’s development plan for the year. We also engage with our trainers annually to discuss our business strategies so they can help us fill any skill gaps.

Spur Demand by Providing Context

Chris Kohl, CIO, Vertex: Vertex differentiates itself by continuously adding value to our tax-compliance and planning solutions, so IT needs to spend time learning the business.

We invite internal stakeholders to monthly breakfast meetings to talk about where the business is going and where they see technology helping them.

Discussing technology options in a business context encourages IT to think about what’s important. It also builds demand in people to develop skills. The cloud is a perfect example–it can be seen as a threat, but when we talk about how it can be a business accelerator, it then becomes an opportunity.

Once the demand is created, we identify the needed skills to meet that demand and work with professional trainers who customize a curriculum for our team. We do this to deepen the team’s knowledge of consulting skills, and now IT people are a lot more comfortable collaborating with those stakeholders to define requirements.

One of our challenges as a mid-market company is developing a critical mass of skills, which necessitates training across multiple disciplines. We also try to attract people who have been pigeonholed in a larger organization and want to get involved in a variety of areas. Motivated IT people can easily cross-train and get some breadth of experience.

Provide Career-Development Tools

Annabelle Bexiga, CIO, TIAA-CREF: As a financial services company with a focus on retirement services, one of our challenges is maintaining the financial well-being of younger people. We’re working hard to increase our brand recognition among this group of people, and the digital channel can play a very important role in doing this. Through social technology, IT can help us achieve this goal. We already have a significant base of skills in Web development, and we are moving into social media and mobile technology.

To help our 1,500 IT employees meet the needs of the business and our clients, we provide both business and leadership training, along with technology training. We are great proponents of letting people manage their own careers and providing them with the tools to do so. One of our initiatives is an online Career Path Framework tool.

The idea is to have an integrated tool so that employees can see all the roles in the organization, look at the skill sets needed and follow a link to the required education components and our jobs database. With the tool, employees can go online and create a career planning map by learning about the skills required for the next job to which they aspire and seeing when a position opens up.

Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.