In response to market pressure to evolve into a digital enterprise, all companies are undergoing radical change. This has resulted in a major shift in the skills required for IT staff.
Dr. Frank Granito
Chief Scientist and Lead Fellow, Institute for Digital Transformation
Dr. Granito has over 40 years of experience in the Information Technology field and has successfully implemented transformation solutions for Government and Commercial clients. He holds a Doctor of Management from the University of Maryland University College with a thesis on Organizational Culture.
In his role as Chief Scientist, Dr. Granito has designed the evaluation tools and analytics for the Digital Readiness Framework to assist organizations as they transition and adapt to the Digital Age. He is the author of the recent book Digital Transformation Demystified.
About 20 years ago, three market forces converged that radically changed information technology forever.
IT went from being a back-office function that supported the business to being an integral part of every business function. One of my partners talked about having a stack of forms for people to use when the system went down. Today, when the system crashes, all business comes to a sudden stop.
Here is what changed:
As Google, Facebook, Apple, and others appeared on the scene, consumers were now using technology that was once reserved for IT professionals. This totally changed the public’s perception on how technology should function. Business executives grew more impatient and dissatisfied with the experience they were getting from their IT organizations.
IT moved from a back‐office function to the engine that powers every business function and every customer transaction. As a result, companies found their livelihoods relying on complex systems they did not understand. And that left them feeling very vulnerable.
IT organizations had a monopoly on providing technology. But that monopoly could not survive the advent of cloud computing and SAAS providers. Business executives finally had what they wanted: choice.
IT organizations were forced to adapt from monopolist manufacturers into competitive retailers. As businesses are forced to rapidly respond to external market pressures, their IT organizations must also rapidly respond — or face being replaced by external service providers.
This has resulted in a radical shift in what skills are required for IT professionals. Technology skills are just the basic prices for entry. IT professionals are expected to know more than just the technology. They need to understand how to use that technology based on their companies’ business objectives.
The Institute for Digital Transformation has determined that the skills required for the Digital Era IT Professional fall into five high-level categories. The five skills are:
Every IT professional must see themselves as an IT leader. The speed with which we must work, the innovation we must drive, and the rate at which we must adapt will simply leave no room for the hierarchical, top-down organizational structures of old.
You cannot afford to wait around for orders. You must learn to see yourself as a leader, build ad‐hoc coalitions to do what must be done to drive innovation, and serve your customers.
Leadership is the ultimate, irreplaceable skill. Be an IT leader and you will always find an opportunity to be challenged and to succeed.
Critical thinking and analysis
Companies need to apply technology in a way that will create strategic differentiation and competitive advantage. Somewhere along the line, we forgot that our businesses don’t pay us to simply do what everyone else does. They pay us to apply technology in a way that will create strategic differentiation and competitive advantage. That only comes when the individuals planning the implementation think critically about everything.
IT leaders do not accept the status quo, they challenge standard practices and assumptions to help organizations go to the next level, and most importantly they understand the business impact of the technology change.
Finance is the language of business. No matter how technical or how seemingly obvious, every technology decision must be made in a financial and business context. If you cannot relate a technology changes/improvement to increased shareholder value, improved return on capital, enhanced market share, or some other business or financial metric, you lose.
If you don’t learn to speak the language of business, you simply will not be successful.
Marketing and communications
The idea that “our work should speak for itself” is antiquated. Business executives cannot and should not be expected to understand the complexity of what IT does. They care only about one thing: how IT can enable their business to succeed.
You need to learn to communicate in terms of business value and market that value at every turn. If you don’t, you can be sure there is some outside service provider that will. You have a great story to tell. Go tell it in language they will understand.
Innovation and collaboration
In the Digital Era, technology innovation is almost exclusively going to occur outside the walls of IT. But that leaves a tremendous — and more powerful — opportunity for you. You can drive innovation in the business through technology.
There is no one in a better position to see the big picture of how technology can be applied to create game-changing business innovations than you. Break through the silos, seek out innovation opportunities, and rally cross-functional teams that create technology‐enabled business opportunities your company cannot yet imagine.
We recently conducted a Rapid Research to see how IT and non-IT professionals view themselves as possessing these skills and found some interesting results. The full report will be available at https://go.i4dt.org/RR-Digital-Era-Skills. Some key takeaways:
- Both IT and non-IT respondents rated themselves highly across digital skills. There are no identifiable gaps here. However, the financial management skill did show signs of knowledge gaps. IT professionals seem to be more skilled at financial management than expected.
- The non-IT respondents rated themselves less skilled in financial management than their IT counterparts. Non-IT professionals seem to be less skilled at their business than the IT professionals. There is a clear financial management skills gap. Ironically, the gap in knowledge is with the population who runs the business and not with those who perform IT job functions.
- More than two-thirds of IT professionals rate themselves as either “Probably” or “Definitely” able to perform financial management activities, while just over half of non-IT professionals rate themselves as either “Maybe” able or “Nope.”
Closing the gap
Where does that leave us regarding the current and future state of the IT professional in the digital era? This research implies that IT professionals have begun to understand what is required in the digital era — they understand the business and their customers.
Finally, non-IT professionals (i.e., IT’s customers) might not fully understand the business nor themselves. IT professionals have spent so much time understanding their customers and their business, perhaps it is time to do some “teach back.” For now, there are several things to consider moving forward:
- IT professionals are customer-focused in the digital era. It took some time, but they get that. They realize that technology is just an enabler of digital transformation. Digital transformation is about understanding customer needs, and altering business and organizational processes to ensure customers are understood and satisfied. Part of that is using technology to better understand the customer and meet them where they are. Perhaps that is why IT professionals report knowing the hard skills of running a business better than their customers. Keep up that understanding. Know your customer’s business and how it operates.
- Perhaps business managers have not received the memo. They still think it’s about technology only. To them, implementing an intelligent BOT, moving to cloud services, or venturing into metaverse solutions is digital transformation. So, does the IT professional have two problems? The first being transforming an organization to a digital enterprise and the second being to educate their customer as to what that really means? Is that the problem we need to solve going forward? IT professionals leading digital transformation must manage their customers, listen, and educate. Therein lies the knowledge gap. You must “train” your customer in the knowledge of digital transformation by showing them that you know their business just as well (or better) than they do!
- The uncertainty of all this is the essence of digital transformation — the journey is fraught with the never-ending need to be agile. It requires constant adjustment and pivoting. It requires the IT professional to always seek to understand and educate their customers — sometimes in the very business being transformed. But also, to continue to be agile and adjust as the customer must adjust. Through your knowledge of the business, help the customer be agile and adjust. As a digital professional, maybe even anticipate or lead that adjustment. Finally, it simply requires IT professionals to understand the predicate business they support. Indeed, to be part of it. That is their future.