New IT skills are required for managing the adoption of emerging technology, such as software asset management, governance, service level management, etc. The question is, “Are your IT employees sufficiently ready and skilled enough to effectively support the adoption, implementation, consumption, and management of emerging technologies?”
Deploying an IT skills framework is not an overwhelming activity although it takes commitment, planning and resources. In the end, it will contribute to the overall return on investment (ROI) for the business. You can think of this as being analogous to the costs associated with maintaining outdated technology. Outdated technology ultimately results in increased total cost of ownership (TCO), potentially higher operational expenditures (OPEX) and reduced net present value (NPV).
After reflecting on my experience with working with IT organizations to deploy IT skills frameworks, I synthesized the process into seven key steps and/or phases. The important thing to remember is that this is an iterative process, which means the activity does not end at the seventh step. Continual change within an organization is inevitable. Therefore, the organization must frequently reevaluate how its IT skill set stays aligned with the strategic direction of the business. Each of the seven steps is discussed in greater detail below.
Step 1: Determine the strategic direction of the organization.
First and foremost, determining the strategic direction of the organization is a core tenet of business transformation. What does the future state of the business look like? What IT skills are required to help the business achieve its future state? What are business stakeholders expecting from the IT organization? It’s common in organizations for the perspectives and expectations of the business units to be misaligned with those of the IT organization. The first step is about gaining clarity about the strategic direction of business.
Step 2: Understand the importance of having the right skills.
The importance of having the right skills is realized through driving the ROI of the business, supporting stakeholders and enabling the IT organization to support the strategic direction of the business. Having the right skills at the right time puts the IT organization in a position to adopt, implement and maintain technological capabilities for business transformation. Having the right skills is about more than just IT expertise. Deploying IT skills frameworks requires IT professionals to have more frequent interaction with business units, understand business goals and strategy and know their customer base and expectations. Soft skills, such as communication, negotiation, stakeholder management, project management, and client relationship management, are becoming increasingly important.
Step 3: Make the commitment to define what skills are needed.
When deploying IT skills frameworks, the commitment to do so must exist across all levels of the organization from executive sponsorship and champions of the cause to the general population of people who will be involved in the activity. The important thing to remember is that deploying an IT skills framework is an organizational and professional development activity and not a performance management activity. If the individuals involved in the process feel threatened by the effort, then they are less likely to be committed to ensuring its success. Transparency about what is being done is one of the key success factors for deploying IT skills frameworks. Organizations often fail in their effort to deploy IT skills frameworks because they undertake the effort as an extracurricular activity instead of integrating it into their daily activities. A key success factor is providing individuals with a certain percentage of their regular time dedicated to deploying an IT framework.
Step 4: Identify the skills that are needed.
This step requires looking at the job roles required within the organization across various functional areas. Identifying necessary skills allows the organization to evaluate its current state and establish its future state. We all know different job roles have many required skills although in this step it’s important to focus on the necessary three to four core skills. This step focuses on job roles, which are different than job descriptions. Organizations often find themselves in trouble when they focus on existing job roles and the tasks individuals within these job roles perform. Identifying future state job roles and skills should be decoupled from the people currently in these job roles. Job roles can be defined to provide a clear and progressive path for individuals to move from one level to another, or even laterally, across functional areas.
Step 5: Assess skills readiness.
Once the future state job roles have been defined, the next step is to assess the skills readiness of all the individuals in the organization. Remember: this is a professional development activity, not a performance management activity. It enables individuals to identify their skills gaps and sets the stage for professional development opportunities. An effective skills assessment should include identifying skills gaps at the individual level, within the overall functional area and ultimately throughout the entire IT organization.
Step 6: Bridge skill gaps.
At this point individuals can establish development and training plans that are aligned with the strategic skills that are required. Having visibility into existing skills gaps enables the organization to best determine where development and training activities should be focused to maximize economies of scale for development and training budgets. In situations where skills are immediately required, this helps the organization decide what new skills need to be acquired through hiring or contracting to individuals who have those skills.
Step 7: Maintain necessary skills.
This is the beginning of the iterative process for minimizing the skills gap. As individuals acquire new skills through development and training activities, they can reassess themselves. As business transformation becomes increasingly important for businesses, their strategy will evolve accordingly and require changes to reshape their structure, processes, organizational structure, etc. Consequently, this necessitates a continued effort to evaluate the IT organization’s strategic skills readiness. By the time an organization has reached this step in deploying an IT skills framework, the majority of the investment has already been made.
IT organizations must ensure they have the right skills at the right time to support the strategic direction of the business. Deploying an IT skills framework provides an opportunity for IT organizations to determine their level of readiness by identifying where skill gaps exist and establishing a framework for bridging these gaps. Like technology, maintaining the IT skills framework will continue to provide value to the business whereas not maintaining it will once again contribute to an increasing skills gap.