Tom Schwieters
Tom Schwieters (Vice President)
Marc Dowd
Marc Dowd (Principal, European Client Advisory)

What follows is a summary of the meeting of the IDC Digital Leadership Community (DLC) held on November 25, 2021. CIOs and other digital leaders from across Europe joined the conversation to share their experiences of the skills needed in the short and mid term by the technology function to move their companies forwards on their digital journeys. Marianne Kolding, VP for IDC’s European Skills Practice, also joined the meeting and shared her insights from discussions with practitioners and providers across the technology ecosystem.

There was a consensus that defining the needed skills and training and hiring for those skills is a very tough nut to crack, and none of the attendees felt they had “solved” the problem. Some of the challenges include the need for tight alignment with the business and overall organisational strategy, so that you get a clear view of what use cases and related skills and capabilities are relevant for your business. Furthermore, demand for digital skills is dynamic; those in demand today may be quite different to what will be needed in just two or three years. Finding and being able to afford the right skills can often be a significant obstacle for many organisations.

Recent IDC research shared during the session showed that the majority of organisations are in the Ad Hoc or Opportunistic stages of maturity in skills development (the first and second stages in a five-stage scale). This met with general agreement among the attendees. However, there was some feeling that the increasing pressure of digital transformation has helped to focus attention on skills management.

The group activity in this session was for attendees to prioritise 32 skill areas and identify how they would meet the need for those skills at their organisation, via training existing staff, hiring new staff, outsourcing or using external consultants, or automating the given area. The exercise generated some surprising results, and spurred a flurry of ideas, reactions and suggestions.

The clear winner in terms of importance was security and privacy skills, though there was a big divergence as to whether organisations would train, hire, outsource or automate to get the needed security capabilities. The other skill areas — such as strategy and planning, governance and compliance, cloud computing skills and data analytics — were selected by a few participants each, reflecting that different organisations will naturally have different needs and priorities.

Other skill-specific insights were also discussed:

  • AI skills may not be needed as widely as currently believed, as much of AI will be baked into the products we purchase, either as consumers or businesses.
  • Similarly, with IoT, many capabilities in this area will be offered as a service, negating the need for many organisations to staff up in this area.
  • Cloud capabilities seem to require a hybrid approach — broad training so that much of the technology staff have general skills and hire to bring in deep expertise where needed.

Soft skills seem to be increasingly important across the board, whether in communication, people management, planning, systems thinking or project management, for example. Specific academic degrees seem to be less emphasised than attitude and the relevant soft and hard skills. Kolding emphasised the potential benefits of actively recruiting from non-STEM backgrounds to achieve a more diverse employee profile and ease hiring pressures overall.

An interesting point was made about the skills/capability area of skills management itself. One attendee has had good results from using external consultants for their skills management function for six months, then using internal resources for the rest of the year. This really “shakes the tree” and gives the organisation a breath of fresh air in terms of building skills, identifying which skills are needed and organising training.

And then there is the question of compensation. Not only are salary expectations for existing roles increasing, but there is also the challenge of defining the right pay level for emerging roles. Annual salary benchmarking exercises can be quite time consuming for CIOs. If companies don’t have up-to-date pay structures, hiring and retaining is increasingly fraught.

An interesting take on the skills gap was that it isn’t really so wide — it’s just that people with relevant skills don’t want to work for certain types of organisations or environments. That could be due to concerns about low pay or a desire for a different experience — starting their own business, working for a start-up, working more flexibly, etc. And what is a CIO to do? There is no short-term solution, and the key is to create a great team and work culture so that people love to work for you, either as a permanent or gig worker. For core strategic initiatives, make sure internal resources are used and that the full programme is not outsourced to consultants. This develops internal skills and shows that you value and trust your own team. And even if someone leaves, maybe they can tell their friends how great your organisation is.

If you’re an IT leader in a European organisation and want more ideas on how you can create a great team and work culture, and strengthen the contribution of technology to the business, please get in touch with us. The Digital Leadership Community meets virtually every two weeks to discuss a topic of importance to the group.

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