Poojitha Jayadevan
Staff Writer

How Indian CIOs are staying ahead of changing demand for skills

Mar 16, 2022
HiringIT SkillsIT Training 

Technology adoption is accelerating across industries, and newer technologies are always emerging, so how can CIOs keep track of the necessary skills and ensure staff are up to speed?

Conceptual trend lines track + monitor data analytics [forecasting / future / what's next]
Credit: SolarSeven / Getty Images

With competition for skilled IT workers getting tighter, it’s more important than ever for enterprises to be sure they’re spending on recruiting and retaining the right talent.

IT executives see talent shortage as the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies, ahead of implementation cost (29%) or security risk (7%), according to a September 2021 Gartner survey.

Identifying which emerging technologies will prove most useful is a challenge, though. The pace of technology has evolved so rapidly over the last few years, multiplied by the pandemic, that it’s hard to keep track — and what’s most in demand today may be obsolete tomorrow. With the accelerated pace of technology adoption, how are CIOs to identify the skillsets they need in their team?

CIO.com India asked IT leaders from different industries about the strategies they use to forecast which skills they will need.

For Giridhar Yasa, chief technology officer at Indian online financing company Lendingkart, it starts with reading. “We follow industry developments quite closely and do our own research. This happens through reports like those published by the Reserve Bank of India, industry consulting majors, and technology papers among others,” he told CIO.com.

Rohit Kaila, vice president of Walmart Global Tech India, develops IT systems for the US supermarket chain. He identifies current skill needs by evaluating his IT inventory. “There might be 10 or 20 or 100 systems out there. What are the key technologies in those systems? That is what drives the people that I’m going to hire.”

Customer needs

However, for the future, Kaila suggests identifying customers’ needs and requirements, and then working backwards. “You know the direction in which the industry is going and what the customer wants. You then work backwards — what do you build, what do you build next? Which systems are going to see the maximum amount of change in the next X number of years, or what is it that is going to create maximum disruption in the industry in the next X years? Then, to make these systems, what are the kind of skills I will need?”

Archie Jackson, senior director of IT and cybersecurity at technology services firm Incedo, encourages IT leaders to look outside the IT department to predict what skills they need within it. “The simplest way to predict the future needs is to be well connected with the surroundings: What is happening in the different businesses around? It’s not about technology, it’s about the businesses that are being innovative and transforming and maybe leading to disruption.”

Consider the constants

In a world obsessed with change, though, some are taking a different approach.

Thoughtworks’ Chief Digital Officer Swapnil Deshpande says he determines the skills that will be in demand based on things that are unlikely to change in the coming years. However, he also considers the possibility of new technologies emerging. “We have seen examples of this with the emergence of new technologies like Web3, decentralization, Metaverse and the rise of robots (technology disruption) on one side and the ever-lowering shelf life of Fortune 500 companies (business disruption) on the other side.”

Another take on the importance of stability comes from the IT head of a renewable energy company who prefers to go unnamed. The technology skills that will remain relevant in the future, they say, are the ones that have a direct impact on the business processes in three ways: first, technology that increases efficiency or optimises processes; second, technology that is going to impact top line and bottom line; and third, technology that will automate processes. Any technology that doesn’t contribute in these three ways will no longer be relevant, and therefore its skills will not be required by the industry.

Saurabh Saxena, vice president of product development at Intuit India, sees another constant in demand for transferrable, non-technical skills that can be applied to any technology: business acumen, problem solving capabilities, soft skills, and a passion to innovate that will translate into success. If those non-technical qualities seem in short supply in the IT department and the current pool of candidates from engineering schools, he encourages CIOs to look elsewhere: “Leaders should rethink their talent acquisition and development strategies to adapt for the changing world of work, searching beyond conventional talent pools to address skills gaps.”

The skills for the future are also about being curious, driving breakthrough innovations in constrained environments and aiming for simplicity in products, and that will require aspiring techies to possess strong technical skills such as programming and an understanding of analytical tools to leverage AI and ML, he says.

Mindset over skillset

Kiran Marri, chief scientist at CSS Corp., looks for these transferrable skills too, and says the mindset is more important than the skillset. Marri believes it’s important to inculcate a culture to own a client problem and be part of the solution. “It is rare to see clients say, ‘we need machine learning or AI,’ but we often hear ‘we have a problem with our operations,’ ‘let us know where we are going wrong,’ ‘how do we serve customers better,’ or ‘we want to enhance our user experience.’ It’s important to have a mindset that is open to problem solving, abstraction techniques, research, creativity, decision making, analytical skills, and communication.”

Thoughtworks’ Deshpande says creativity, critical thinking, complex problem solving, strategic thinking and being action oriented are the skills that will be most sought out after. “It will become a valuable asset if one is able to smartly work with both people and machines, be able to develop and intuitively use new technology,” he adds. “At Thoughtworks, to bridge skill gaps, we focus on actively building and supporting capability development programmes through training, self-learning, coaching and mentoring while also creating opportunities for experiential learning.”

Shifts in consumer behaviour, new delivery models, and the remote workforce influence the industry and form the crux of reimagining businesses in the future, says Anand Patil, senior director, systems engineering at Cisco. Patil says shortage of talent that can implement and support these emerging technologies is concerning and skill-based education can fulfill the industry’s demand and combat the challenge of digital-skill shortage.

What skills are needed?

Let’s take a look at where the reasoning of some of these CIOs leads them.

CSS Corp’s Marri says the technical skills that will continue to drive the IT industry are AI, analytics, ML, open-source, languages such as Python, full-stack development, and niche areas such as augmented reality and virtual reality.

The IT leader at the renewable energy company says there will be most demand for data scientists who can translate data into more meaningful business language, cybersecurity experts, cloud architects and business analysts who can bridge between the business and the technology team.

Intuits’ Saxena highlights the steadily increasing jobs in cloud computing as enterprises in India and globally are moving workloads and applications from traditional data centres to the cloud. The most in-demand and highest-paying talents in this group, he says, are experience with AWS, AI/ML, cloud-native technologies such as Kubernetes and containers, open telemetry, Kafka, GraphQL, and React. “Developers are in massive demand, thanks to rising demand for software and apps as the globe gets more digitally linked. Knowledge of Python, Java, R, and natural language processing tops the list of the in-demanded skills… Other than these, we’re also on the lookout for top talent skilled in big data; data scientists; development managers; product managers, and designers.”

Cisco’s Patil says it’s all about ‘superskilling’ as we go deeper into the digital-first world: “Organizations should implement a culture of continuous learning and upskill existing teams on critical IT skills such as cybersecurity, cloud computing, devops, AI/machine learning, data analytics, blockchain, and software/mobile development.”

As you can see, while the core forecasting methods (looking at the constants, at the business environment, at customer needs) can lead CIOs to different, yet equally valid, conclusions about the skills their enterprise needs, there are still some overlaps. Short-term competition for candidates with these skills will continue to drive up costs, making it all the more important that CIOs look at the business, analytical and soft skills that will remain relevant when the current technology fads have passed.