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Businesses can no longer neglect IT if they want to remain competitive

Businesses lack IT leaders with the skills and resources needed to promote innovation and change in the context of technological upheaval

Only 9% of IT leaders globally have the skills needed to drive innovation and deal with rapid technological advances, according to research.

UK IT leaders fare even worse, with only 6% identified as so-called “agents of transformation”, in a study by IT analytics firm AppDynamics.

To keep pace with the ever-changing needs of business, companies urgently need highly skilled technology leaders, but too many IT executives retain an outdated skillset, said Gregg Ostrowski, regional chief technology officer at AppDynamics.

“Businesses have a current mindset of IT as being very transactional – it keeps things running and keeps things going,” he said.

“But the expectation now needs to be shifting so that IT is viewed as being very innovative, very strategic, very locked in tight with the business, so the business understands how technological innovations are driving the company in the right direction.”

The report estimates that to remain competitive in the next 10 years, organisations will need at least 45% of their technologists operating as agents of transformation.

“Within the 9% of technologists globally, and 6% from the UK-specific research, even though it’s kind of small, it’s more to say look at the opportunity there is to move forward,” said Ostrowski.

“Moving forward to today, you have to have a cultural mindshift that can take you from the way you used to do things to the way you need to evolve and transform to do things.”

However, only 22% of technologists globally are very optimistic that their organisation is ready for that change, citing a number of reasons for their lack of preparedness.

Outdated tools and skills, for example, are major barriers, according to the survey’s respondents, with 56% saying there is a surplus of outdated technology in their department, and 85% saying they do not have access to the software and tools needed to turn data into real-time, context-specific insights.

Beyond the technological limitations, many also pointed to cultural barriers. Some 86% of IT professionals, for example, believe their organisation lags behind the most forward-thinking and innovative companies in their respective countries, with 45% seeing themselves as lagging behind by more than five years.

This number is even higher for the UK, where 50% of technologists feel they are more than five years behind.

Many also feel that their full potential is not being realised in their current role (26%) and that too much of their time is spent maintaining existing software and systems (60%). As many as 58% say their job is often so reactive that they have forgotten what attracted them to it in the first place.

“Taking risks and being willing to try new things is key to transforming the companies we work for,” said Nicolas Matelot, DevOps manager at La Poste. “Agents of transformation require the will, the confidence and the motivation to make bold decisions and change the future of our companies.”

Michael Makar, a senior IT manager at the World Bank, said: “I get up every day wanting to make a positive difference; otherwise, I wouldn't get up and go to work. There has to be a greater goal in mind. There has to be a reason that we’re tackling the problems that we are, so that we can make positive change and we can help people along the way.

“That’s really my main goal – helping people in the long term. For me, legacy is very, very important.”

Despite the challenges they face, technologists are enthusiastic, albeit pessimistic, about the potential for change, with 71% saying they care deeply about how technology is changing the world and 96% viewing digital transformation as a huge opportunity for them personally.

“These folks have the aspirations,” said Ostrowski. “They just need to have the teaching to enable them do that and see they have the ability to make a change and drive this innovation.

“It’s definitely going to be really difficult. Ultimately, the company needs to have the right leadership in place that enables this to happen. But, realistically speaking, for them to execute that change, you need to have the right folks at the bottom, too.”

The research was conducted across a range of markets and industries through interviews with 1,000 IT professionals from organisations with revenues of at least $500m.

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