CIOs face unsustainable IT staffing model

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CIOs face unsustainable IT staffing model

Comment: How outdated assumptions about IT are threatening business results.

Information, technology, high-speed communication and the Web have introduced structural change into what businesses, institutions and consumer companies do and how they make their money.

However, while the demand side of business has undergone structural change, the supply side — that is, how companies fulfill that demand through people, services and resources — remains remarkably untouched.

The situation is especially acute in IT disciplines: Aside from small points of automation inside IT, the IT profession remains highly specialised and labour-intensive, focused on individual practices and steeped in legacy investments and technologies losing value and currency.

As demand for growth, revenue, innovation and profitability climb, organisations are nearing a point of unsustainable IT staffing.

They will be unable to find, develop or maintain the calibre and the qualification levels of people at the volume, pace or locations they need.

At the upcoming Gartner Symposium in Australia I'll be discussing how to break through this unsustainable staffing model, but in the meantime, here's some food for thought.

Gartner's research reveals a gap between how CEOs and senior business executives view people-related issues and how CIOs do.

In two Gartner 2010 surveys, the gap was clear: About 200 CEOs and senior business executives in 2010 ranked the attraction and retention of talented people and skilled workers in the top five priorities (No. 4, to be exact).

Meanwhile, 1500 CIOs put the attraction and retention of workers at No. 10.

Inside that gap lies a failure among CIOs to appreciate that structural change on the demand side requires them to pursue structural change on the supply side.

Although some may conclude that people issues are less of a problem in the field of IT than in all other areas, I assure you the opposite is true.

Fifty years of investing in hardware, software, networks, systems and applications leave many CIOs tethered to the notion that value lies in the ingredients of their portfolios, not in the future sweet spots of information, business process and relationship building.

Taken collectively, the outdated assumptions will threaten business results and cause businesses to miss their targets. It's not a gamble CEOs or CFOs want to take, and CIOs need to present the cases strongly.

CIOs, CEOs and other senior executives all must instigate wholesale structural change in whether, how and when they fulfill demand. Four things stand out:

  • Lead the Way Toward New Computing Models. Lighter-weight technologies such as virtualisation, cloud computing and mobile applications emerge as ways to gain economies of scale in problem solving, skills, expertise and intellect.
  • Clean House. Focus on differentiated applications, systems and tools, and excise activities, portfolios and skills that feed only generic services and perspectives.
  • Design Versatility Into the Workforce. Develop people whose behaviours, aptitude and communication skills enable them to move easily across multiple domains and roles.
  • Make Revenue Risk and Mission Risk Explicit. Explicitly identify and connect know-how and expertise to business revenue and growth.

Make no mistake: If you as a CIO have not addressed workforce risk or if you think you are immune, you will be proven wrong.

Dependence on deep specialisation, slow adoption of alternative computing models and a lack of economies across expertise, intellect and innovation will put business targets at risk.

Diane Berry is a managing vice president in Gartner's CIO & Executive Leadership Research group.

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