When only 12 per cent of IT leaders feel they have the resources to achieve their IT goals in 2019, what are the skills and capability needs they face? Brian Runciman MBCS looks at what IT leaders told BCS.

In early 2019 BCS published its annual survey of IT leaders, looking at what resource needs they have, where the skills issues lie and what keeps them awake at night. The specific skills gaps list would come as no surprise: cyber security, cloud, devops, AI and so on.

It is in the detail where some other trends emerge. BCS always ask for personal comment in surveys for this reason. Let's start with a member comment that covers a lot of the issues: the problem is 'getting talent with both technology and business skills and experience who have decent applicable educational background.'

Of course, talking qualifications, BCS have an extensive roster and they are a moveable feast because they reflect an industry in constant flux and progression. Take AI, where we had a number of specific requirements come out, including prescriptive, predictive and cognitive analytics, RPA implementation and so on.

At a policy level BCS is involved with AI - the government announcing just this February a coordinated nationwide programme of industry-funded AI Masters courses based on recommendations and extensive input from the Institute. In qualifications, BCS also recently launched the Essentials Certificate in Artificial Intelligence, looking at the terminology and general principles, benefits and types of AI. It also covers the basic process of machine learning, the challenges and risks associated with an AI project and the future of AI and humans in work.

AI is an interesting example because, while it was a discipline lost a fog of hype, which it still is to an extent, its capabilities and potential benefits are now becoming more widely understood. That fits in rather well with a member comment that cites this challenge: to know which are simply short-term fads and which actually represent crucial long-term shifts in the technology market that an organisation simply must invest in. Blockchain, we are looking at you...

Additional resource needs

It's not all about budget, in fact increased budget came third behind other personnel needs. 'Enhancing IT capability and skills in the existing workforce' was the top answer in the survey, followed by 'acquiring additional staff that are suitably qualified'.

As the latter is also a large cost issue, many comments focused on efficiencies. Finding a way to enhance general knowledge in the workforce - 'continuous knowledge enhancement' - was cited as an issue. Targeted training was also a common thread. In a related comment, one member wanted a way to address 'continuous reskilling', which links to the difficulties caused by a lack of knowledge transfer also cited.

The consistency of the requirements for reskilling or upskilling shows a people-focus. Whether from necessity or a caring approach is perhaps unimportant against the fact that it is happening.

Filling gaps

One way of filling the gaps is with external partnerships. One commenter gave their approach: 'we use a flexible partnership model with external and internal teams, so gaps are very easily addressed. Where resources lack a certain skill, training is used to develop it.'

A caveat to this approach is mentioned by another commenter: 'much is outsourced, so the biggest challenges are managing those relationships and ensuring they act as trusted partners and advisors in a regulated environment.' Filling gaps with partnerships moves the skills need from being predominantly technology-based to the business and management environment.

Another commenter warned against 'over-reliance on IT vendors to manage key systems, causing a dilution of knowledge in the organisation's decision-making and ability to execute.'

The confluence of technology and business skills has long been a theme in the industry. One commenter mentioned a specific case, highlighting their need for 'the ability to embrace and integrate technology know-how in an IOT landscape for a business perspective.'

Individual professionals also need to 'understand the ICT landscape,' said one member, continuing that it's 'great to have skills in ringfenced areas', but there is a need for enthusiasm to broaden skills and general appreciation and knowledge of other tech and business areas. Dare we say, this is one of the places where a professional body comes in. This is reinforced by the need to 'have a broad spectrum of connected capabilities in emerging technologies', as another commenter phrased it.

The idea of refreshing skills amongst staff is still vital post a digital transformation project if it is to be successful. In June ITNOW, we will be looking at more in the business transformation area.

In terms of addressing the capability gaps, the survey had this outcome:

  • Upskilling /on the job training 74%
  • Career development planning 45%
  • Mentoring 36%
  • General recruitment 36%
  • Professional qualifications 31%
  • Headhunting 18%
  • Finding suitable apprentices 17%
  • Relevant professional body membership 11%

The full research will be available soon on MyBCS.