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December 3, 2013

Guest Blog: Not technology but talent

Andrew Carr, CEO at Bull UK and Ireland, says CIOs need a long-term plan and investment to nurture the right talent to meet their strategic goals.

By Cbr Rolling Blog


Many IT departments are currently having an identity crisis. After years of having no time to do anything other than maintenance, trouble shooting and generally ‘keeping the lights on’, their role is now being questioned. Some are even asking if they are needed at all when cloud-enabled applications can be quickly downloaded on-demand and maintained by the provider.

Thankfully rumours of their demise have probably been exaggerated. But only if CIOs act quickly to carve out a new role more deeply ingrained in the business. They need to look ahead and start re-framing the status of their departments to protect their long-term interests as a matter of urgency. To put it bluntly, their existing IT staff may not necessarily have the right skills to cope in the business environment of the near future.

Of course many CIOs come from a purely technical background themselves and first need to focus on their own self-development to acquire the right commercial awareness and to transform perceptions of their position. But this change of tack must be part of a wider strategy to re-train and develop the entire team. While a technical background won’t be wasted, the new emphasis should be on managing third-party relationships and service delivery – areas that require different attitudes and thinking.

In fact, CIOs are going to have to put their business skills to the test at the first hurdle – getting the buy-in from the rest of the business. It will take a long-term plan and investment to nurture the right talent to meet strategic goals. In this case it’s not enough to tell staff to go on a training course and come back with certain skills as this won’t bring about the deep-rooted transformation needed.

For example, at Bull we have developed an ambitious staff development programme called "Pamplona" where we’ve ensured that employees can apply all training specifically to their own jobs as soon as they return from their course. In return we’ve found that morale is enhanced as staff now have a stronger stake in the company’s long-term strategy, so driving up employee retention levels. It also lays the foundation for longer-term talent management and succession planning.

At this point you may be asking two questions. First – what about big data and data analytics? And second – how about those techies who don’t want to follow a new direction? After all, their current knowledge may not translate easily to the more people and relationship-orientated jobs I’m talking about.

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In an ideal world the technical resources and requirements here would match up. However, it’s not easy to train those used to managing legacy infrastructure to become data scientists or business analysts. Consequently, this remains a big challenge for the individuals and the businesses involved as these skills are in big demand and short supply

However, in the future, companies won’t always be able to come up with all the answers themselves and instead will rely increasingly on strategic partnerships. In the case of data analytics, they should investigate what the government is doing to encourage more collaboration between universities and industry.

The world of algorithms and predictive analysis has become so complex and fast-evolving that it sits more comfortably in an academic environment than in business. So a long-term talent development programme could involve a closer engagement with universities, whether this means providing work placements for bright students, co-funding projects and research or other initiatives.

It’s become a cliché to describe new technologies as ‘disruptive’, but the term is used with good reason. Many IT departments are now finding themselves at the epicentre of change. It may be exciting, however, it’s certainly not easy. Yet, I’m confident that a proactive and flexible new model can and will emerge.

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