The new business ‘ecosystem’: Tapping into a partner’s skill set

By Sooraj Shah
31 Jul 2014 View Comments

Over the years businesses have found it harder and harder to recruit specialist IT staff, leaving them with no choice but to think of new ways to access the resources and know-how they need.

In a recent survey commissioned by open source and cloud service provider Reconnix, 74 out of 100 UK-based IT leaders said that they have experienced difficulty recruiting staff with the skills and experience they require.

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And while a recent drive by the government to promote the uptake of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at GCSE and A-levels may help in future, businesses are suffering today.

Web application development (38 per cent), internet and networking (36 per cent) and data analysis (34 per cent) were all highlighted as key technical areas currently facing a talent drought.

So how are companies trying plug these gaps?

Balfour Beatty and Transport for London (TfL) are two organisations that have had difficulty finding the right people for their IT departments.

Balfour Beatty has about 150 employees who are involved in IT-related activities, but by partnering with companies like Verizon, Oracle, Fujitsu and Microsoft, its CIO, Danny Reeves (pictured), believes that the firm has an extensive "ecosystem" of skills and capabilities that it can tap into at any time.

"While we have 150 of our people, there are a countless number of people which we have access to with far more intellectual property and research and development experience than we can ever deliver internally," he said.

Meanwhile, TfL has 517 staff in its information management team, with up to 350 contractors at any one time, depending on demand.

"At the moment we've got 823 people working within the department directly under my control," said TfL CIO Steve Townsend.

On top of this it has support from third-party partners and suppliers.

"We have an unknown number of people supplied by [IT services company] CSC because they look after our service desk, among other things," he added.

It may sound strange for a CIO to be unsure as to the exact number of staff at his disposal, and under a regime where all workers are internal, it would be. But when some of these staff work for a third party, and can be scaled up and down seamlessly according to demand, it's something a CIO learns to accept.

For example, TfL does not request a specific number of people from CSC, but instead it forecasts the support its service desk needs and CSC supplies the level of staffing it feels it needs to meet the service level agreement (SLA). TfL has similar arrangements with Fujitsu, who supply more than 40 people at a time, and IT services provider Damovo, which supplies TfL's fixed telephony across the organisation.

Balfour Beatty's Reeves suggested more and more enterprise IT departments are having to rely on third-party employees, citing a transition over the past 10 to 15 years from "closed-shop IT functions" to this new "ecosystem" way of working.

"We've moved more and more away from these closed-shop IT functions that churn out a lot of technology thinking but don't necessarily leverage the capabilities for the best outcome of the business," he said.

"Just by opening up your thinking and not being a closed shop, you are really able to pull on that ecosystem of capability, through suppliers, through your partners, the supply chain and other parts of your internal business," he added.

Reeves believes this approach enabled Balfour Beatty to access skills and insight that would otherwise have been beyond its reach.

"It's very much an opportunity to at least open up the issues around the skills gap and gives us the ability to take people with the right capabilities in the right areas. It gives you a countless number of brains, hands and legs that can march into whatever the challenges are - and it definitely helps with our challenge of finding the right people across our industry," he said.

"[With companies that use this ecosystem] it just means that we as IT leaders within our businesses are not the only ones thinking about how we can do things and what we can leverage to achieve our desired outcome," he added.

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