Minding the “Skills” Gap

CompTIA, a professional development technology association, reports in a recent study that “93 percent of employers indicate there is an overall skills gap among their IT staff.” Discussing and finding solutions to closing the IT skills gap is a major theme we focus on here at InnovateBusinessIT.com.

We have heard from CIOs about the need for future CIOs, and today’s successful executives, to change the conversation regarding the application of technology and its services. However, the definition of success is changing. Today, success is not defined as being “at the table,” but to be a key contributor to the CEO’s strategy committee.

Joe Topinka of Red Wing Shoes says a confidence gap exists between IT and the C-suite. In his opinion, this confidence gap hinders the CIO’s goal of becoming a strategic adviser. Even as executives have the highest interest in IT in almost a decade, Topinka says, “the real challenge is that even though that interest is high, they’re not able to translate that into actual investments within their organizations.”

Topinka says the confidence gap is a result of a long history of thinking that IT doesn’t matter, going back to Nick Carr’s infamous Harvard Business Review article a decade ago. They’re also complaining about the spending that IT does. They’re afraid of IT. They don’t like to ask about IT.  They’re embarrassed about their lack of knowledge. They also don’t understand the notion that customer experience defines the brand and customer engagement now.

The reason the C-suite has this perception is that IT executives still don’t speak the language of business. The inability of IT executives to speak the language of business creates this chasm effect that you have in companies today, and that’s where the problems really occur.

New C-Suite Titles and the 70 Percent
Once the CIO can “speak the language of business,” what actions are needed to demonstrate this proficiency?

Our research finds there are confidence gaps in how CEOs perceive the current activities and what will be needed in the future. Only 46 percent of the C-suite believes the CIO understands the business strategy. Yet, 75 percent of C-suite executives surveyed would like CIOs to play a more active advisory role.

Maybe this is why we see the creation of various new C-suite positions being created. We have read news reports that the next CIOs will have Master of Business Administration degrees rather than master’s degrees in information science or computer engineering. Today, we hear that the quickest path to the C-suite will come via the chief data officer or chief content officer. Maybe the creation of these C-suite titles is compensatory behavior for what the CIO has not been accomplishing.

Perhaps the chief data officer was created as a way to compensate for the CIO not executing on enterprise architecture appropriately. It’s possible that the creation of the chief digital officer is a result of CIOs not operating in a market-facing and revenue generating way, and that the enterprise is signaling that it needs an executive to drive these business activities. The CIO needs to start building these skills, or we may see the creation of more complementary titles. In fact, research we’ve done says 70 percent of CIOs won’t be doing what they are currently doing in the next three years. This figure indicates CIOs face severe career consequences if they are unable to acquire these skills.

Actions speak louder than words
Thornton May, a theory author, educator and industry thought leader, says that organizations should get the IT they deserve. He describes the past decade as tragic for CIOs, as the IT executive charged with the strategic application of technology to create value was reduced to being a cost-cutter, with very little budget or organizational appetite for training and skills development. Meanwhile, every CEO is demanding their IT departments help “grow the business,” which requires innovation.

Tom Murphy, senior vice president and chief information officer at the University of Pennsylvania, understands expectations have changed. He feels the ability to lead people is absolutely essential.  He continues to say, “The ability to communicate effectively is as important as the leadership abilities, because what I do, and what the team needs to do is take the highly complex and make it very simple, and sell it to people who don’t want to buy what you’re selling.” After all, isn’t that what we do in IT?

Murphy suggests that senior IT executives should not wait to be invited to the table but instead define the organization’s value proposition, and sell yourself (and the function) to get in the door. “Once you’re in the door, people are going to realize that you’re bringing tremendous value to the table, and you’ll be invited in the future, but don’t wait to be invited.”

Jean Holley, chief information officer at Brambles, a supply-chain logistics company that operates in more than 50 countries, says that although she sees herself in both transformational and business strategist roles, the real opportunity is to be a part of the business. “CIOs today cannot just align. They need to be part of the business.”

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