Innovative IT: The Skills Gap, Unrealistic Expectations, and a Flexible Solution

These are interesting times for CIO and IT Directors the world over. The demands of the average IT department require that they be flexible and adaptable because, while much of what we do with technology has stayed the same (data input, data analysis, troubleshooting and hardware), even more has undergone dynamic and complex transformation. One need look no further than the rise of Big Data, the IoT, BYOD, cloud computing, and, soon enough, big steps with AR and VR, to see that fast and agile IT is a necessity.

IT organizations have had a hard time keeping up. Wendy Mars, a VP for Cisco, states that simply “keeping the lights on” has become quite the task for IT, with organizations spending upward of 80% of their time and money on everyday operations. She suggests that the IT environment should no longer be focused on complexly robust projects, but instead on efforts centering around efficiency, agility, and innovation to stay ahead of change.

While a new model sounds like a welcome answer to those in need of faster and more agile teams, it can’t ignore one of the most prominent topics in IT today–the skills gap. When IT directors and organizations are having a hard time recruiting talent that suits their concrete needs as is, it leaves one wondering whether or not deploying a new model will be executable. On the other hand, it’s reasonable to suggest that a change in the model is exactly the Excalibur that the IT industry needs to combat the nefarious skills gap.

More Flexible and Agile IT

Cisco’s solution to the overtly complex world that IT has plunged itself into has been dubbed “Fast IT”. They’ve observed that the Internet of Everything (IoE) will result in $19 trillion in potential value over the next 10 years, and via a survey of more than 1400 global IT leaders, Cisco determined that:

  • 90% of IT professionals agree that IT organizations are moving to a “service orchestrator” model of delivering strategic business outcomes
  • 89% percent of survey respondents cite complexity as a significant issue facing IT, and 48% of those consider it a “very significant” challenge.
  • 90% of respondents agree that an “agile” model is the future of IT, while 83% believe that an upswing in “agile” infrastructure requirements (programmability, automation, orchestration) is expected over the next two years
  • 94% cite these capabilities as key to their organization’s future evolution

So what exactly does the Fast IT model accomplish? As Cisco explains further, they outline that the main goals of Fast IT are to simplify technology infrastructure, create capabilities and services that fuel growth, and respond intelligently and dynamically to threats. Essentially this means automating more processes and “decomplexifying” infrastructure, so that you can focus on more mission-critical and business-relevant projects. A more comprehensive architecture with fewer working parts makes standardizing security easier as well.

Cisco may be onto something here: whether you agree with their model or not, it seems that everybody agrees that simplification–dedicated hardware support, an internal team that is familiar with a streamlined infrastructure, and fewer vulnerable access points–needs to happen. This will require personnel of the same efficient, agile, and innovative caliber… but where are we going to find them?

The IT Skills Gap

New research by TEKsystems shows that the vast majority of IT leaders and IT professionals (80% and 78% respectively) believe that the IT skills gap is real, while only about a third of each believe their organization has the skills in-house to address their needs. This is corroborated by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who shows that 1 in 3 U.S. workers report that they are not proficient in the technology required for their job, while only 1 in 10 reports having mastered workplace tech tools.

It’s safe to say that if there was ever debate about whether or not the skills gap is real, that debate is over. The skills gap is real, an ugly beast that bleeds U.S. businesses an estimated $1.3 trillion a year–but even though we’ve established that, the root cause of the problem eludes us.

Low Skill or Unwieldy Expectations?

The TEKsystems whitepaper shows an interesting disparity between what IT professionals and the IT leaders that hire them believe to be at the heart of the problem; while 70% of IT leaders view actual lack of skill to be the biggest issue in seeking quality candidates, only 25% of IT professionals agree. Instead, a majority of them (63%) posit that a mismatch in actual experience and education is the crux of the issue.

Jayson Hyman, TEKsystems Research Manager, tends to agree with the IT professionals.

“So much of the skills gap problem starts with the job description. What this means is that there is a disconnect in skills matching. The hiring managers and the executives are saying, ‘People don’t have the skills needed for this job,’ and candidates are saying, ‘The company’s expectations are completely unreasonable.’ Recruiting is more an art than a science, especially in IT, where job roles can vary dramatically and where the person doing the hiring may not be technical themselves,” says Hayman in an article on CIO.com.

It sounds, perhaps, like the IT professionals may be right–and a group that IBM’s Tech Trends series has dubbed “Pacesetters” might just be proving it.

Pacesetters, Followers, and Dabblers

As IBM began looking at adoption by companies of big data and analytics, cloud computing, and mobile and social tech, they classified businesses into three groups: Pacesetters, Followers, and Dabblers.

Pacesetters believe that technology is essential to development and blaze the way, making up the early adopters of big data and analytics initiative and the first companies that embraced the crowd. Followers appreciate the importance of this technology, but follow the lead of Pacesetters (hence the name). Dabblers are the rest left behind that are behind on technology adoption.

What IBM found is that Pacesetters are keeping their lead even after Followers and Dabblers adopt the same technology, by using it more efficiently and effectively. In fact, Pacesetters are five times more likely to significantly accelerate innovation of products and services than Dabblers, basically making them the model for those trying to adopt agile, efficient, and innovative models. So how are they able to continue to blaze new trails in such uncharted territory unfettered by the skills gap that plagues so many others?

They simply partner more, according to the study. 80% of Pacesetters utilize citizen developers, which is twice as many as Dabblers–but can the answer to the problems posed by the skills gap really be that simple?

Citizen Developers

The citizen developer is term coined and defined by tech research firm Gartner as “an end user who creates new business applications for consumption by others using development and runtime environments sanctioned by corporate IT.”

Basically, what we’re talking about here is somebody with the skills, but without the formal education.

Citizen developers have been around since long before they began getting big coverage in 2013, and continue to influence businesses today, and have been propelling growth, efficiency and productivity since. It’s important to note that in the IBM study, Pacesetters don’t just turn to citizen developers and stop there–nearly 60 percent of Pacesetters proactively develop skills, experimenting even before a clear business need emerges.

The Verdict

If the large majority of IT professionals believe that IT leaders have overwhelmingly high expectations, and the large majority of currently agile, efficient, and innovative businesses are lowering their hiring standards by utilizing citizen developers, maybe there’s a pattern here.

Perhaps the key is realizing that what you truly need is not somebody who has every single qualification you are looking for, but somebody who will grow and adapt with your organization.

Besides–it’s hard to hire somebody with 3 to 5 years experience in Big Data & Analytics when the field itself has barely been around for that long.