Skills audits back as insourcing gathers pace

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This morning I received an e-mail with extracts from a Gartner press release saying: “Infrastructure and Operations skills (I&O) gaps will cause 75% of organizations to experience visible business disruptions by 2020. Given the lack of digital dexterity for hire, I&O leaders must begin by developing these skills with the talent they already have. Most companies don’t have an accurate inventory of the available skills of their current IT workforces, so this must be a first step.” 

The release goes on to call for IT departments to work with their Human Resources colleagues to do tactical skills audits while awaiting long term solutions. But most will have also outsourced HR. The e-mail I received was from a “transformation” consultancy offering a 90 day skills audit package.

Skills Audits were part of the “Manpower Planning” module at London Business School in 1971 – 73. They were common in well-run IT departments in the 1970s and 1980s. They fell out of fashion with the rise of outsourcing. But many of those who outsourced failed to maintain the in-house expertise necessary to ensure they got value from their outsource contractors. In consequence we got the rise of rigid, bloated, consultant driven deals from public sector PFIs to the private sector deals which brought sporadic leaks, collapse and chaos to telcos , banks and airlines

The zenith of outsourcing (both public and private sector was a decade ago. The subsequent unravelling of many of the underlying business models has now brought about  the collapse of Carrillion , mounting problems for players like  BT  and Capita and calls for the break up of the Big Four accounting firms who agreed the contract valuations which “underwrote” the fees and bonuses given to those who negotiated the contracts and the share values of the outsourcing companies.

Today we have the slow but steady rise of insourcing, using lower cost modular, flexible, cloud-based products and  services, and the need to rebuild in-house expertise. Skills audits, (to identify in house talent, plus manpower planning to develop it, are coming back into fashion.

In late 2013 I did a couple of blogs which, inter alia, looked at the problem in the context of cybersecurity where most boards of large organisations were already well aware that they had problem but were being sold platitudes, as opposed to credible solutions which separated that which could be outsourced, if necessary, from that which should not

Perhaps the key quote in those blogs was from the CEO of Tempest who said “Neither the direction of the threat analysis not the communication of the results can be sensibly outsourced”. The reason was that both required in depth understanding of the business and its culture and risk appetite and profile. Retaining those roles in-house also meant the organisation had to maintain the in-house skills to make use of its threat intelligence sources (like those of Tempest) as well as of all the techie tasks that it might be sharing/outsourcing.

The same applies to the outsourcing of any other IT functions that is critical to the health and safety of the business.

The current GDPR job creation farce has brought this home – with a split between those using the opportunity to improve customer contact and reduce their risk profile, those tying themselves in lawyer driven knots and the dominant monopolists (whose behaviour is usually the most egregious to start with) telling their customers, who have no choice, to give consent or piss off.

This is the kind of area where professionalism (as opposed to “mere” technical competence”) is most needed – and least likely to be found.

Take a look at the skills definitions used in most “continuous professional development” schemes and you can see how the skills agenda has, as too often, become driven by introverted, siloed, time served, techies who lack the breadth of knowledge to integrate, let alone negotiate or manage outsourced operations. Hence the popularity of the ITMB and the efforts being made to use it as the basis for mature entry apprenticeships to cross train user managers. Hence also the popularity of shared skills incubators (like that in Plymouth for Cybersecurity skills) to provide supervised work experience using leading edge tools and techniques and not only turn talent into technical competence within months not years but also begin the process of embedding professional attitudes and a desire to build a career not just a job – moving on to a degree-linked, graduate level apprenticeship – “earn while you learn”.

Gartner is very good at identifying and “jargonising” a trend that is already under way. This one will accelerate. Those who do not take a good look at developing the talent they already have in house, with the skills they will need in the future, will have only themselves to blame if it leaves.

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