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IT leaders will need to invest in their own skills in 2018 to get the most out of innovation for their organisations, as commodity technology tasks become even more automated, experts say.
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Four in 10 technologists expect most tasks that previously needed human expert input to be automated in the next decade, and one in 10 are experiencing it right now, according to a technology survey by recruitment firm Harvey Nash.
This means tech professionals will need to stay ahead of the curve. This is illustrated by the study finding that 95% of over 3,000 IT decision makers polled are developing their skills, with four in 10 paying for courses out of their own pocket.
“The skills tech professionals learnt five years ago are no longer the skills needed to thrive today. The march of technology affects everyone, and every year it does a little more of what humans do,” says Harvey Nash director Natalie Whittlesey.
“For technology professionals looking to really advance their career, two potential futures appear to be evolving – one lies in the innovation teams of users and the other in the product teams of technology organisations,” says Whittlesey.
Opportunities plentiful for innovators
With cloud providers and outsourcers driving IT automation, a wider skills gap is being left in technology organisations, which is being partly plugged by innovation ecosystems that can include not only suppliers but in-house “labs” and university partnerships.
“Some organisations aren’t just partnering with other companies who have a skill set, or product they need; they’re investing in them, or even acquiring them. This is a mutually beneficial coexistence that provides the agility to innovate for end-users and funding and growth for tech startups,” says Whittlesey.
“From a careers perspective, this has meant organisations are increasingly looking for people who have excellent partnership and stakeholder management skills. The emphasis is moving away from pure technical expertise.”
Despite Brexit and the drop in the pound, opportunities for UK leaders and their teams will still be plentiful in 2018, the recruitment specialist points out.
This means companies will need a compelling story to attract the best talent. The days of expecting candidates to jump through hoops to secure a role have well and truly disappeared.
“Hirers have understood this for some time, particularly when hiring in the tech space, but we’re now seeing even more competition and counter-offers for those at the front of their field,” says Whittlesey.
“Hirers need to think carefully about their proposition; what’s the story and opportunity now and long-term; though long-term these days can mean two to three years,” she adds.
Diversity and flexibility will remain a challenge
According to Whittlesey, IT professionals with the skill set required to drive innovation projects typically want to make an impact in a company investing in technology where there’s sponsorship from the top, with Millennials and Generation Z professionals expecting development and promotion opportunities outlined early on.
The new breed of technology professionals are seeking more flexibility, with modern employers responding with an “anytime, anywhere” approach. This in turn increases the candidate pool beyond local geographies and when they are in the office, candidates want to work in a modern, open environment that stimulates collaboration.
In addition, Whittlesey points out that words such as “equality”, “diversity” and “inclusion” are no longer politely skimmed over in a conversation and those hiring should expect to be tested on this specific point. The executive admits that it’s still a challenge to produce balanced shortlists, but companies demand them.
“An increasing number of companies is taking action by asking internal and external recruiters for names to be removed from CVs, to use gender neutral wording on advertisements, ensure a diverse range of faces are on marketing material,” says Whittlesey.
“2018 will be an interesting year where the war for talent can be won with evolved, inclusive recruitment activities, in modern, flexible environments where innovation and collaboration are actively celebrated,” she adds.
The commercial enabler will evolve
Technology leaders have already been moving from being a back-office reactor to commercial enabler for some time, but according to Whittlesey, further evolution of this process will be even more noticeable in 2018.
“Organisations are increasingly looking for [senior IT professionals] to drive new revenue streams or develop new products and services for customers,” she adds.
To illustrate her point, Whittlesey mentions a client of hers: a law firm, who is on the lookout for a technology leader to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology for case management. This in turn will give the company a new automated self-service product to be launched in the marketplace.
Another example cited by the recruiter is a FTSE-listed engineering business which is looking to gain ongoing long-term revenue from wrapping data and digital services onto their manufactured product.
“Leaders – whether CIO, CTO, CDO and their director equivalents – must identify and deliver innovative, but commercially viable, solutions that their internal customers and their clients need,” says Whittlesey. “If they don’t, they may be resigned to business-as-usual, operational roles that have no business impact – a career minimiser for sure.”
Alan Clarke, digital transformation expert at PA Consulting Group agrees with Whittlesey's point that CIOs will be even more integral to driving business value in 2018.
“Customer expectations are at an all-time high with greater demand for instant, seamless and personalised digital experiences,” says Clarke.
IT-led improvement and investment will increase
This year, CIOs will also need to invest more heavily in technologies and services that get their enterprise better equipped to meet customer demands.
“This investment is needed not just in technology products, but in architecture, continuous delivery tools and people. 2018 will be about stitching these technologies and approaches together into an adaptive digital supply chain,” he adds.
Using analytics to drive insight is no longer just for the big players and tech-savvy CIOs are in a strong position to make their digital businesses thrive, says Clarke.
“Today’s customer journey is spread across a myriad of devices, wearables, IoT, cognitive-bots and each interaction creates a significant and constant stream of data about what they like and what they don’t,” he says.
“2018 will see a greater use of advanced analytics and machine learning to gain real insight from that data into customer behaviour. That will ensure organisations can act fast, capitalise on what works and close down what doesn’t.”
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However, staying ahead of the trends requires continual improvement and adaptation of the digital value chain. Clarke predicts that many of the digital and technology investments over the past 12-24 months will come together to create a “virtuous circle”.
This would include microservice applications, application delivery controllers, big data, public cloud, robotic process automation, real time analytics and AI.
“But that will need AI and analytics at the centre. Processes and interactions produce data, AI gives you insights to improve processes so you get more data and then when you repeat the process you improve what you do,” says Clarke.
“Agile delivery teams have done this pretty much since day one, and it’s the ongoing process of improvement which will allow organisations to react almost immediately to emerging trends,” he concludes.