6 IT experts weigh in on skills gaps and how to fill them

6 IT experts weigh in on skills gaps and how to fill them

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September 16, 2015
Harvard Business Review How to Keep Your Top Talent CIO

IDG’s 2015 State of the CIO survey indicates that over half of large enterprises – especially those actively pursuing emerging digital technologies – expect to experience a skills gap over the next year. As organizations look to transform their businesses with innovative new approaches, such as cloud computing, mobile, and more agile processes, they are also looking to bring in and cultivate the skills needed to rapidly experiment and succeed with new technologies. At the same time, digital transformation is requiring IT organizations to beef up talent in the areas of security and data analytics to ensure that new technologies are being integrated securely while generating business value.

“IT security is a big area because of advances of its use in the business context. As we’re moving more things online – for example we have a sales workforce that is now mobile – the threat landscape keeps expanding. In our environment we do have physical servers but we also are leveraging public cloud services, and we have a private cloud,” said Houston Ross, vice president, COO/CIO, NN Life Insurance, Ltd., Japan. “The integration between all of that and the security of managing that type of infrastructure is becoming quite critical and important. And in Japan specifically, but all over the world in general, there is a big gap in IT security specialists.”

Ross also points to solution architecture and data science – and in particular, analysts who can turn data into valuable information – as key hiring areas over the next year. “We have database administrators and employees who can do Extract/Transform/Load, but we don’t have what I call the next step in the evolution of data management. Like just about everyone else, we need that predictive analytics talent,” said Ross.

But, as the responsibility of IT shifts within the business from a supporting role to a critical player in disruption, competitive advantage, and growth, CIOs are not looking for technical skills alone in IT talent. Increasingly, they are looking for proficient technologists who also understand what it takes to transform the business in the new digital economy.

“My charter is to transform what we do to be more aligned with the business and to deliver real value,” said Eamon O’Kelly, vice president and industrial solutions CIO, TE Connectivity. “I’ll be looking to hire a core staff of business relationship leaders this year, in addition to portfolio management and M&A integration. That includes business analysts who can really identify and translate the business opportunities on which we could deliver, leveraging the larger delivery organization. They will be challenged to get intimate with the business (how we plan to grow and deliver value to our customers) and then identify, evangelize and deliver on those opportunities. Both are necessary to make an impact.”

Digital maturity and culture attract top IT talent

While finding talent with the perfect blend of technology prowess and business know-how may seem like a daunting task, there is good news for forward-thinking CIOs. New research from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte Digital reveals that employees across all industries and age groups are actively seeking opportunities with digitally-mature companies. The study suggests that employees are looking at strategy, leadership, and culture as key indicators of digital transformation.

Indeed, culture can be critical to a CIO's hiring strategy for a variety of reasons. For one, top IT talent tends to be centralized within specific geographical regions like New York and Silicon Valley. For example, Matthew Brady, vice president and general manager of the Integrated Systems Division of Federal Signal Corp.’s Safety and Security Group, said he plans to open an office in Chicago specifically to attract more talented candidates to his team. For companies in other areas, culture can be a strong differentiator.

Non-profit organizations also look to culture and more meaningful work as a draw. Jay Ferro, CIO of the American Cancer Society, tells potential new hires, “If you’re considering working with the American Cancer Society, I know you’ll feel very connected to the mission because we’re very open and transparent without a lot of silos. Of course, if you just want hard dollars, we might not be the place for you. But if you want to apply your trade and make a great living and be part of saving lives, it’s a great place to be.”

John Marcante, CIO and managing director of Vanguard's Information Technology Division, agrees. “We also find that our core mission and values resonate with good people. Millennials especially are attracted to firms that are socially benevolent and value community involvement,” he said.

Marcante also believes that thinking about talent acquisition the same way you think about customer acquisition can go a long way in attracting the right hires. “We build relationships with local colleges and universities in our geographic locations, and work to provide amazing experiences to students through internships. We provide a rotational Technology Leadership Program that is appealing to highly motivated individuals; it continues to be a steady source of talent for us as well as a great developmental experience for employees,” said Marcante.

Of course, in the race to stay ahead of a rapidly moving digital landscape, talent gaps are an ongoing challenge for today's CIOs, and it's getting more competitive by the day. Joy Taylor, CEO of TayganPoint Consulting Group, suggests that IT leaders focus their efforts on building great talent in house.

“Find somebody who genuinely wants to work, and build them into something great. You can’t design and build and train attitude,” Taylor said.

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Carla Rudder is a writer and content manager on The Enterprisers Project.

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