Recruiting new IT talent is become one of the biggest challenges facing chief information officers as companies invest in the next generation of software tools.
After decades of trying to move software engineering offshore, companies are investing in in-house software engineering departments that can work much more flexibly, IT leaders heard at a meeting of Computer Weekly’s 500 Club.
Software engineers are once again taking a place at the heart of the IT organisation, says Sam Gordon, director of recruitment specialist La Fosse Associates.
“If everything is based on packaged or outsourced solutions, then it is much harder to respond, so everyone is struggling to build software packages [internally] again,” he says.
As demand for software engineers grows, companies are finding it difficult to attract the skilled developers they need, particularly in London and the South-East.
One senior IT professional revealed she had been forced to bring software engineering back in-house as her supplier was not keeping up with the latest techniques.
More on IT leadership trends for 2013
“There is such a lack of top talent in digital software development that everybody is scrambling for talent. The agencies are looking for it. The start-ups are looking for it,” says Gordon.
It is no surprise, he says, that suppliers are also struggling.
Companies want developers to work much more closely with the business, says Tim Jennings, chief analyst for enterprise IT at Ovum.
“It is particularly difficult to get that if you are looking at a remote outsourced development team,” he says. “I think it is critical to get that close, iterative working together.”
Gordon quotes one CIO as saying: “I can add far more value to businesses with 10 rock star engineers than I can with 100 offshore developers.”
As companies bring their engineers back in-house, IT is shifting from being a services provider to the business to become a partner with the business in creating compelling products, the meeting heard.
“I think this whole notion of teams working together in an iterative fashion, developing products in the same way as pure digital businesses do, is going to be mainstream in corporate IT," says Gordon.
One sign of this trend is that chief marketing officers (CMOs) are now working much more closely with the IT team.
“We spent more time talking to CMOs last year than we probably did in the five years before. We have even recruited chief technology officers [CTOs] that report directly to CMOs,” he says.
In-house development of corporate apps
Corporate apps – business equivalents to the popular apps found on mobile phones and tablets – are an area that is ripe for in-house development, Gordon told the meeting.
He cited the CIO of one major retailer, for example, who recently asked an app developer to shadow a store manager for a week to see how an app could help the retail staff work more effectively.
The developer discovered that the manager’s most painful and laborious tasks was recording damage to cars made by shopping trollies in the car park. The result was an iPad app that takes a photo of the damage, allows the manager to complete all the relevant documents, and sends them to the store’s claims processing system.
“That is just one application. There must be myriad business processes that can be addressed with an app,” says Gordon.
But if CIOs are going to recruit the software engineers to make these apps a reality, they will have to work harder at making their companies appeal to prospective employees.
More from the CW500 Club
Attracting new talent
Some companies had a real wake-up call when they tried to recruit graduates to their IT teams last year, says Gordon.
“I had a couple of woeful tales from companies with great brands, organisations you would think would be aspirational to work for,” he says.
The companies made their presentations, went back to their stands and waited to be inundated with graduates. They waited and they waited.
“They looked over to the Google and Facebook stands, and a start-up stand, where everybody was high-fiving and swapping business cards,” he says.
Businesses need to develop a strong story that will convince the next generation of software engineers that their companies are compelling places to work.
“The public relations you have for your organisation is quite important. If you have bright sparks in your development team, then get them out to the milk round. I think that is really important, to have people out there pressing the flesh,” he says.
CIOs, he suggests, should not distance themselves from technology. They should be seen to embrace it, if they want to attract bright youngsters to their organisation. “The CIO needs to be very visible, buying into those technical skills, and needs to show that he cares about it,” he says.
At the very least, CIOs should appoint a "chief geek" who can take a hands-on interest in technology, says Mark White, chief technology officer of Deloitte Consulting's technology practice.
Deloitte created its Deloitte Digital brand partly to create an organisation that would attract the brightest technology specialists. That meant ripping up some of Deloitte’s corporate polices and starting again, according to Kevin Walsh, practice leader for Technology Consulting at the firm.
“We have had to rethink the working environment. It has created a totally different buzz and culture in the organisation,” he says.
Technology specialists don’t want to come into work in suits, says Walsh, and why should they?
White agrees, referring to a Halloween picture created by young developers that featured the scariest thing they could think of – men in corporate attire.
They want to be known as engineers and gurus rather than consultants and managers, says Walsh. They use tools such as Yammer to collaborate, and organise "brown bag" lunches and hackathon days to try out new ideas.
“They want time to work on their own pet projects that they think will really make a difference. They don’t always want to be constrained by what clients are doing,” he says.
After struggling to find graduates for some years, Deloitte now recruits directly from schools and helps students through university. “We catch them at a time when they are extremely creative and extremely productive,” says Walsh.
A cautious approach to business growth
Businesses are feeling more optimistic than they were 12 months ago, but not massively more optimistic, according to Kevin Walsh, practice leader for technology consulting at Deloitte.
Deloitte’s quarterly survey of chief financial officers shows CIOs are thinking cautiously in 2013, senior IT leaders heard at the meeting of Computer Weekly’s 500 Club.
“We are seeing about 75% of chief financial officers [CFOs] thinking about defensive strategies right now, versus expansionary strategies,” says Walsh. “That is probably the highest it's been over the past five-and-a-half years.”
Just after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, some 78% of CFOs believed there would be greater growth opportunities ahead. Today, that has dropped to 47%. So while CFOs are open to growth possibilities, they are also looking to keep costs firmly under control.
CIOs can take the initiative here by renegotiating contracts with suppliers and reducing the cost of IT infrastructure by moving to the cloud and software as a service (SaaS).
Download a copy of Deloitte's quarterly CFO Survey here
Download Tim Jenning's report: Super themes shaping the ICT agenda
This was first published in February 2013