The IT Skills Enterprises Need Next

As the focus of IT departments shifts from providing information and infrastructure to improving business processes, the mix of skills they require is evolving as well.

Writing on ZDNet, Brian Sommer contends in As IT’s industrial age ends, the humanist era begins that:
Which IT skills will be vital in 2015?

“Systems of Record are giving way to Systems of Engagement. User Interfaces are being updated to permit a better User Experience. Cloud solutions are displacing on-premises applications. Lighter, leaner IT groups are using utility computing (e.g., public) cloud solutions. Developers are building mobile and e-commerce apps. The list just goes on and on.”

All true. And while “humanist era” in this context is essentially a synonym for the consumerization of IT, and the nature of the changing IT environment should not be misunderstood or overstated, new skills are indeed required to accomplish this evolution.

It’s not so much that “old” skills are no longer needed (legacy applications and on-premises infrastructure, in most cases, will not disappear completely any time soon), as that they are becoming less of the core of what IT does. New skills are becoming vital, to complement and leverage rather than replace traditional IT skillsets. Sommer identifies the following three broad areas of new skills required in IT.

Social/Human Skills

“Look at the vendors developing analytic and e-commerce applications. They’re spending fortunes on people with outstanding social science backgrounds. They’re hiring behavioral scientists, sociologists, psychologists and more. They need these people to help their technology-savvy IT folks develop apps that work with the humans who use them and not work against them.”

These are the communication skills required in DevOps. To bring IT out of the shadows and maximize value for the enterprise, IT groups need people who can not only understand user needs, but also the “why” behind those needs and what features and design elements are likely to not merely satisfy but truly delight users.

Design Skills

“In the mobile world, software designers need to develop smaller apps that are…actually easy-to-use. Apps should be brainless to operate successfully. This is actually quite a difficult task…The best designers look at color palettes and debate things like how well a color-blind person will do with these screens. The best designers fight with the internal IT people who want to put every function and feature on a screen when most users need only to complete 4-5 fields…IT is moving away from a time where we felt compelled to put in every feature, function, data element, etc. into every report, screen, etc.  No, now IT must have the discerning eye of an artiste.”

These designers must have the ability to work with both the social skills group above and with developers to determine what fields actually need to be presented to users and how best to present them in order to optimize the user experience. This is essential in designing intuitive portal / mobile interfaces for systems of engagement that access and manipulate information from disparate systems of record and other federated data sources.

Translation & Transition Skills

“All of these years with Agile, Scrum, etc. have created a lot of people skilled in developing pieces of applications fast. But in conversations with IT leaders… it is getting really rare to find someone who knows how to take the output from these new applications and actually get it into other systems, databases and clouds… Businesses need people who can translate and transition data from different applications to/from different systems and data stores. This skill seems to be in short supply…IT needs people that connect the dots.”

This role is sometimes filled by enterprise architects, individuals who possess “both deep technical skills and business acumen; the ability to understand the details of technical infrastructure combined with a big-picture perspective; and the communication skills to work as effectively with introverted IT staff as with extroverted business leaders.”  Enterprise architects bridge business needs and technical requirements by building teams and taking an agile approach to improving business processes.

Organizations can also provide business process experts (generally function group managers) with graphical workflow automation tools, enabling those experts (with a modicum of IT assistance) to build, test, optimize and deploy their own task automation—by connecting and managing data manipulation between those “different systems and data stores.”

To optimally align with business needs while adapting to the changing technology infrastructure environment, IT needs new tools, new processes, and—the new skills outlined above.

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