The need for tech expertise is greater than it has ever been — and growing. The increasing sophistication of information systems, coupled with business’s ever-expanding reliance on technology to handle critical processes, raises big questions about where that support is going to come from in the years ahead.
Companies need to start thinking about I.T. talent as a supply chain unto itself. And the very nature of that resource is changing.
“We’re in the midst of a shift in how work gets done within a business,” says Arun Srinivasan, senior vice president of strategy and customer operations with SAP Fieldglass, a provider of vendor-management systems (VMS) software. “We’re seeing the emergence of a multi-channel workforce, influencing how businesses find and engage talent.”
And just what is a “multi-channel” workforce? It’s the model under which companies draw on talent from multiple sources, including in-house staff, outsourced services providers, and freelancers.
In the past, many companies chose to employ I.T. workers directly. Over time, with the shifting of business requirements and the skills needed to support complex information systems, that strategy has become less viable. In response, executives have had to create supply chains for talent, in the same manner that they obtain physical goods and other types of service.
It’s more than a question of simply outsourcing I.T. expertise. At the start, Srinivasan says, the move was driven by the need to cut labor costs. Now, with so many companies treading the same path, that’s no longer a market differentiator. “Businesses are being challenged to be digitally active, within the organization and with customers, and to be agile,” Srinivasan says.
Talent today comes from the source that meets a company’s needs of the moment. And those needs can change on a dime. So it’s very much in the interest of businesses to encourage a multi-faceted environment of I.T. expertise. Understanding who can best do the job at any given instant becomes a critical skill unto itself.
The characteristics of an I.T. expert are changing, too. An obvious reason is the growing power and dominance of technology. Simply put, I.T. staffers need to know more today. And their value to the company is incalculable, considering the price one pays when crucial systems go down. Who can afford an idle factory, or a paralyzed server farm?
I.T. experts are being asked to expand their skills to include management of mobile platforms and security administration. In the case of the latter, the battle against hackers and cyber thieves demands that companies arm themselves with the most effective weapons they can find.
There’s a downside, of course to the use of outside experts for I.T. support. Freelancers have no real loyalty to the clients they serve. They can come and go at will. And in the age of the “gig” worker, they do. Ensuring continuity of service becomes one of the biggest challengers in the era of the multi-channel I.T. workforce.
Employers, too, are exhibiting less continuity in their hiring patterns. They might prefer the temporary engagement of a worker who’s brought on to carry out a specific task. Think of the long-standing model of movie production, where each film brings together a crew of writers, actors and technicians who disperse when it wraps. A recent study of business executives by Accenture found 79 percent of respondents agreeing that the future of work will be geared more toward specific projects than ongoing roles. That’s a clear acknowledgment of an unemployment rate that’s approaching 4 percent. In other words, companies today couldn’t find enough full-time I.T. workers even if they wanted them.
The shortage becomes even more acute when one considers recent advances in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, machine learning and cloud technologies. Experts in those fields must possess knowledge of hardware, software, mathematics and engineering. I.T.-related issues today are more than a matter of figuring out why your computer won’t boot up.
As with any supply chain, it all begins with the source. In the case of I.T. expertise, that’s education. It falls to universities to adjust their programs to increase the level of I.T. knowledge and the number of individuals who possess it.
“I would say that there’s a greater awareness in the education industry of the need for I.T. expertise in general,” says Srinivasan. “But the answers might not all lie within the traditional universities.” Trade schools have an important role to play in training the engineers and I.T. professionals of the future. And businesses themselves need to step up in-house training, and take greater advantage of certifications that are available to those seeking extended education. Says Srinivasan: ”There has to be more of a public-private partnership.”
Srinivasan isn’t overly concerned about the uncertainties of the gig economy. The freelancer population, he says, “will continue to add value to the I.T. business landscape. They bring certain attributes.”
But that’s only one link in the still-developing talent supply chain. To determine whom they need and when, companies will have to rely on analytics and machine learning. Such tools can account for the many constraints and opportunities that present themselves to executives seeking the best possible I.T. support.
“The supply-demand equation is not likely to change dramatically in the near term,” says Srinivasan. “The onus is on the business to determine what is truly important.”