15 August, 2013 by

How CIOs Can Avoid the Other IT Skills Crunch

The finding in CEB’s Future of Corporate IT 2017 research that often sparks the most controversy is the one about IT equipping employees with competencies, not just tools. Our recent post on the HBR blog on this topic saw a healthy stream of comments, and I’ve had many lively debates with CIOs who are reluctant to see IT stray into a new area of responsibility.

The problem is simple. As organizations deploy ever more powerful tools for analytics and collaboration, they risk outstripping employees’ abilities to collaborate and analyze data. Those abilities are surprisingly limited. Only 20% of employees are effective at network performance – defined as “an employee’s effectiveness at improving others’ performance and using others’ contributions to improve his or her own performance”. And, only 38% have the skills and judgment to use data effectively for decision making.

The controversy comes from how IT should respond. On the one hand, if new capabilities for collaboration and analytics go unused, the investment is wasted and IT will usually share some of the blame. On the other hand, getting involved in employee training and development expands IT’s remit in ways that make CIOs hesitate.

We believe that this is a problem that the c-suite as a whole has to solve and that includes the CIO. So IT cannot avoid getting involved but that involvement should be carefully designed so that it exploits IT’s existing capabilities.

Use IT’s Cross-Cutting Relationships to Highlight the Problem

As IT deploys collaboration or analytics tools, it interacts with many potential users of the new capabilities. No other function in the company does this, particularly if the new tool is going to be used enterprise-wide. IT can use these interactions to help build awareness that skills gaps are a potential barrier to value capture. In the blog post, we give the example of a company where IT provides work teams with a self-assessment to help them understand if they have the necessary team skills and dynamics for successful collaboration. If they don’t, IT will suggest they fix these problems before the team starts using collaboration tools.

Exploit IT Team Skills and Knowledge

Coaching is often the most effective way to teach a new skill, and when it comes to analytics, data analysts in IT have a lot to teach. Unfortunately, few IT teams screen for coaching ability when they hire for these roles, but we have seen a few CIOs change their hiring criteria in order to find “quants who can coach”.

Rethink the Use of IT Training Dollars

When you add up the cost of training employees to use new tools and providing employees with help via the service desk when the tool breaks, the average IT team actually spends several million dollars annually on employee support. Some organizations are taking advantage of improved usability and peer support to repurpose this spend. They cut back on basic tool training and support, and spend more on giving employees the skills and knowledge they need to use the tools productively in their day-to-day work.

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