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Look closer to home for the skills to accelerate Digital Transformation

Look closer to home for the skills to accelerate Digital Transformation

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It goes without saying that business leaders must assess the importance of maximising resources to meet customer demands. Chris Buijs, EMEA Field CTO, NS1, discusses how companies can maximise their resources without sacrificing performance as they compete in the digital economy.

The term ‘Digital Transformation’ is more readily applied to technological change within enterprises than it is to people. Without people, however, transformation is unlikely to happen, and the most successful projects are those where people are put at the very centre from the start.

One of the main objectives of Digital Transformation is to empower the workforce to operate more efficiently. If certain tasks can be automated, skilled employees will have more time to spend on the work they were contracted to do and the tasks that bring most value to the company.  

The reality is that some organisations may already be advanced in their transformation journey, but they are struggling to reap the rewards of their effort and investment. They have focused on hardware and software installations and for a wide number of reasons – including lack of time and being tied up in processes – have not paid enough attention to the teams using the new technology, considered the need for ongoing training, or simply cannot find people with the right skills to maintain it. 

Marrying legacy knowledge with digital know-how

The challenge of Digital Transformation is that it requires two strands of knowledge and experience and there is a considerable gap between them that is hampering progress.

The first strand is managing the legacy technology that is already in place. Large organisations in traditional sectors including banking, financial services, government, public sector and education still rely on legacy applications and mainframes supported by employees with many years of deep knowledge in how the applications work and the languages they use. They are accustomed to stable, continuous infrastructure, rather than the rapid innovations of today.

As transformation projects evolve, however, a second strand of skills is needed and this can extend beyond an understanding of modern digital technology. According to Gartner, tech industry leaders look for a digital skill set that not only includes Digital Transformation, but engineering, knowledge of Microsoft Azure and other cloud technologies, security, computer science and tech infrastructure. 

Companies need workers that understand agile development and have experience across the full stack of modern technology if they are to maximise the huge investment in infrastructure that they are making. Meanwhile, CIOs and senior managers striving to keep their modernisation efforts on track must find a way to retain, engage and transition the existing workforce.

Bringing the two strands together in harmony is a considerable undertaking, but successful transformation is about building modern solutions in parallel with legacy systems so that vast inventories of data can be mined and customers can be seamlessly transitioned.

There is another reason why training and investing in those skilled in legacy technology is important. The market is simply not rich in digitally enabled human resources. According to a report published last year, 30% of organisations believed a shortage of skills to implement technology would be their number one challenge in the next 12 months. This is reflective of a broader situation revealed recently by research from the Learning & Work Institute, which found that since 2015, there has been a 40% decline in pupils taking ICT subjects at school. Over a quarter of the employers they spoke to required the majority of their workforce to have advanced digital skills, but despite 88% of young people recognising that these skills were important, only 18% felt they had what employers needed.

Running to keep up

Speed of change is also having an impact on organisations. The pandemic has accelerated digitisation by as much as five years as CIOs and CTOs have been forced to rapidly deploy technology that enables them to support remote workers and keep up with the dramatic switch by customers to online channels. 

This is straightforward for tech companies such as Google or Facebook, which have been built from the ground up to be agile, but many long-standing organisations, such as banks or government agencies, were not built to move this quickly. The result is a tremendous strain on resources, testing IT teams that were already struggling with Digital Transformation, and which are more accustomed to 10-year — not one-year – technology evolution cycles.    

Companies have choices. They can outsource to third-parties, or they can set up an entirely new IT organisation from scratch, built to be light on its feet using modern cloud and mobile technologies as its base. This means they can abandon the transition process completely. The other way is to find an improved solution for managing the resources that they have.

Managing resources more effectively

Transformation demands a cultural shift to the same degree that it demands a technological shift and preparing the workforce is a huge part of it. This is where CIOs have such an important part to play in setting out realistic expectations and a clear path for how employees’ working lives will change for the good.  

It’s understandable that existing employees more accustomed to legacy equipment will be resistant to change. In many cases, they are already overburdened. Network engineers, for example, are being dragged away from their core roles by the necessity to oversee regulation and compliance, monitor risk assessments, or fill in forms. The clear message to them, however, is that Digital Transformation has the power to automate these processes and in doing so, allows them to concentrate on the job they were hired to do, be more productive and gain more satisfaction.

Companies should bring their highly experienced people along for the transformation journey, not least because they have hands-on knowledge of how system functionality has evolved over the years to meet changing corporate requirements. Given that the market is not rich in resources and it can take eight or nine months to fill a tech role, it makes good business sense to maximise the value of their human capital. 

It will certainly be important to outline a career path that acknowledges worker’s existing abilities and expertise, but offers them more. Training and opportunities to learn additional technical skills such as working with Java applications, new IT disciplines, or refactored applications is essential. 

Build on what you have

It’s not easy for CIOs to manage Digital Transformation in traditional companies where the culture tends not to tolerate change. Devising the right strategy for workforce management during this time, however, could mean garnering an army of supportive, engaged and motivated employees for whom innovation means opportunity, not redundancy. This must be a better prospect for companies than losing valued workers who are still needed to run core systems, allowing the organisation the time it needs to look for available digital talent, without running the risk of potential damage to customer relationships, revenue and reputation if systems fail.

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