Poor skills planning may cost the UK dearly

29 Sep 2009 View Comments
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New IT talent must be nurtured to ensure that future leaders can balance cost with efficiency

Leadership-logoSkills development plans for IT leaders are failing to keep up with the changing nature of the technology profession, according to experts.

Current development strategies are suitable for the traditional in-house IT set-up, but this is changing into a mix of permanent staff, contractors, retirees, employees provided by outsourcers and offshore workers, says a recent study by consultancy Deloitte.

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Progress in this area would require establishing specific human resource policies for developing IT staff ­ often considered a “non-traditional” workforce ­ such as improved performance management, coaching and succession planning, rather than focusing primarily on systems.

“All business areas have talent-related challenges, especially during the recession, but there is an opportunity for HR and IT to work together a lot more efficiently,” said Tom Fuller, manager of Deloitte’s consulting practice.

“Competency modelling in IT is a weakness we have noticed in many companies. A lot of them do not get it right and as a consequence they cannot offer a tailored solution in terms of staff development.”

According to Fuller, chief information officers (CIOs) must find smarter ways to overcome the difficulties of developing staff while keeping an eye on their other responsibilities, such as encouraging knowledge transfer and staff rotation into other areas of the business.

Though reduced budgets and shrinking teams could make it difficult to move staff around, bringing in temporary resources to cover roles can generate longer-term benefits, by having employees returning to IT with improved business knowledge.

“CIOs should take care of their top performers and look at other ways to develop them, rather than just looking at their salaries,” said Fuller.

A poll by networking group CIO Connect also highlights the issue, with 70 per cent of the group’s members saying that more attention needs to be placed on educating future IT leaders.

“Our members suggest the leaders of the future will need to be even savvier about the business and its cost drivers,” said CIO Connect chief executive Nick Kirkland. “For some IT leaders, engagement with the business can be a concern. Many CIOs come from an IT background, which does not necessarily prepare executives for the business-focused nature of the CIO role.”

“CIO is a challenging position that requires a unique skill set not often naturally occurring within one individual,” added Kirkland. “As a priority, UK plc must develop next-generation IT leaders with the right mix of business, leadership and technical skills.”

Poor career prospects could even prompt a massive brain drain, as 70 per cent of UK IT professionals are now considering looking for work abroad, according to separate research from recruitment firm Computer People.

The current IT skills gap could be exacerbated by such developments, as a career change is now on the cards for 39 per cent of permanent technology staff and 35 per cent of the contractors polled in the study.

To find out more about Computing’s Tomorrow’s IT Leaders campaign, visit: www.computing.co.uk/til

IT leaders need to stay close to their users, says Aurora CIO

At Aurora Fashions – owner of clothing brands such as Coast and Oasis – encouraging interaction between IT and users is crucial to the wider business agenda.

The firm’s technology department of about 60 staff is deliberately placed as close as possible to the people using the systems it supports, and the relationship between the two is instilled into IT staff from the start of their careers in the business.

“As soon as they go through their induction, IT staff have to formally spend time with users,” said Aurora chief information officer John Bovill.

“They do this every month. Ideally it would be for a day, but it tends to be a couple of hours sitting with users and understanding their needs.”

Enhancing soft and technical skills is a priority and Aurora has doubled its IT training budget to ensure the team is equipped to meet business needs. Knowledge sharing to develop cross-functional expertise about the company’s processes is also encouraged as a way to streamline communication between internal clients and IT.

According to Bovill, breaking down barriers between users and IT as well as tailoring communication to the corporate audience is key for IT leaders looking to improve relations with the business.

Having contact with users, and having enthusiasm for the product and customer offerings is also a vital piece of leadership development, he said.

“Go back to the floor and gain knowledge of the pressures business users are under,” said Bovill.

“Open up a dialogue and communicate with them. It is invaluable to make sure that your purpose in IT is enabling and supporting the business.”

Listen to our podcast Q&A with John Bovill

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