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As technology plays a more integral role in organizations’ strategic planning, CIOs will need to hire and use staffers who can adapt to new roles—and who can master new skills that build on their deep expertise.
In recent decades, many IT workers became increasingly task-focused. Those with highly specific skill sets could typically work their entire careers within a single specialization. Managers were commonly motivated to develop the soft skills needed to effectively communicate and collaborate with the business, but many remained unprepared to take part in IT’s expanded role.
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That’s generally changing, for a number of reasons. More and more IT tasks are being automated, and IT organizations are retiring many of the specialized skill sets on which careers were built. As IT’s mission moves from “build and run” to “imagine, explore, architect, and design,” a new spectrum of roles typically requires skills quite different than even just a few years ago. And the convergence of technology domains encourages the mastery of adjacent skills instead of deep silos of expertise. To close the talent gap, reimagining IT talent and culture transfusion is required—refreshing traditional skills and rethinking old culture.
In recent years, some enthusiastic industry pundits and executives diluted the meaning of transformation to the point where it’s often invoked to characterize incremental improvements. But in the digital era, the rate of change truly is growing exponentially, and we can’t expect IT’s traditional ways of working to keep pace.
Real transformation likely demands a whole new approach to delivering IT services. It’s a multifaceted challenge with two critical elements: money and people.
This could be good news for the IT workforce with the drive and ability to upskill their technical and interpersonal abilities. Granted, there will likely be fewer IT jobs: Survey data suggests that IT organizations will reduce the percentage of full-time employees from 82 to 75 percent of staff. But new roles are being created (for example, product managers), and those positions that do remain may turn out to be more satisfying and challenging, freeing up people to work with new technologies and business areas to deliver stronger business outcomes.1
Twenty years ago, people branded themselves as SAP experts and even focused on a specific module, and that was going to be the focus of their entire IT career. Those days are gone. Today it’s about technology athletes—people who are curious and are always looking to solve business problems through technology. — Wayne Shurts, EVP and CTO, Sysco Corporation
Sysco Corp. CTO Wayne Shurts described today’s IT talent as “technology athletes—people who are curious and always looking to solve business problems through technology.” They have the intellectual and interpersonal strengths, flexibility, and drive to adapt and excel in environments of shifting business demands with an accelerating flow of new technologies.
CIOs are hardly new to talent shortages, but to support the business mandates for innovation/growth and business transformation, they’re likely looking for a new combination of skills. Technical expertise—especially in new and emerging technologies—remains critical, but many savvy IT executives today see a growing need for augmenting that expertise with the soft skills needed to collaborate with the business.
When asked which IT technical skills will be most difficult to fill over the next three years (see figure 15), CIOs identified analytics and data science, followed by cyber and emerging technologies and innovation.
While many CIOs seek scarce technical expertise, they also need people with communication and interpersonal skills, which can be difficult to find in STEM-trained talent (see figure 16). As they make hiring decisions, CIOs surveyed expect three soft skills to be significantly more important than others:
Service orientation—a skill traditionally highly valued in IT—is the skill that CIOs surveyed expect to decrease the most in importance. Today, 65 percent of them hire for this skill, but only 52 percent expect to look for it in the future. Other traditional skills—including complex problem-solving, leadership, and critical thinking—will continue to be valued.
In response to these changes, many CIOs are spending millions of dollars to revamp their workforces, employing multiple strategies to attain the needed skill sets. Fifty-eight percent report they are leveraging talent from external partners and service providers; the same percentage say they are retraining and retooling current talent. More than half (56 percent) are focused on hiring experienced talent, while only 36 percent report focusing on hiring fresh college graduates.
The top IT workforce challenge is finding and hiring talent with the appropriate mix of technical and soft skills; 60 percent of survey respondents report difficulty finding this balance. Other common challenges are training for new skills and tools (52 percent) and managing and motivating the existing workforce (48 percent).
To reinvent our organization through technology, we need to ensure that our culture enables and promotes the reinvention of our IT talent as people and professionals. Otherwise, we cannot transform. — Reginaldo Pereira da Silva, IT director, Thermo Fisher Scientific
Digital vanguards are betting on culture as a talent magnet. Only 9 percent see culture hindering their talent recruitment and retention initiatives, compared to more than a quarter of baseline organizations that see culture as an HR hurdle (see figure 17). They also credit opportunities to work with new and emerging technologies as the leading attribute that helps them attract and maintain talent (81 percent versus 61 percent of baseline organizations). Reputation is the most significant talent differentiator between digital vanguards and baseline organizations: Half of digital vanguard CIOs indicate that stature as a tech innovator helps them attract and retain talent, compared to only 20 percent of baseline organizations.
Salary and culture are important in attracting millennial talent, according to the 2018 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, which found that their top job priorities are salary (63 percent), positive culture (52 percent), and a flexible work environment (50 percent).4 “When looking to recruit and attract top IT talent, you can’t have a policy to hire in the middle of the salary range,” says George Conklin, SVP and CIO of CHRISTUS Health. “You also can’t have a culture of resistance to change and fear of failure. Because then you also have to be OK with mediocrity and stagnancy.”
Many CIOs are investing in diversity and inclusion programs, recognizing that promoting diverse experiences and inclusiveness are key in winning the talent war. Eighty-seven percent of CIOs say they have an authentic commitment to diversity and inclusion, and more than half of US CIOs surveyed (58 percent) say they have formal initiatives in place to promote workplace diversity and inclusion (see figure 18).
Research has shown that diverse workforces with talented women, underrepresented minorities, and members of other underrepresented groups deliver better results.5 For example, diverse companies are more likely to capture new markets and increase market share than nondiverse companies, and employees of diverse teams are more likely than others to take risks, challenge the status quo, and productize ideas.6
Cultivating diverse teams and leadership pipelines may also help CIOs battle the ongoing shortage of technical talent.7 Millennial and Generation Z workers admire companies perceived as having diverse workforces and senior management.8 Leveraging this appeal can help attract young digital natives who are comfortable with new and emerging technologies.
By promoting diverse experiences and inclusiveness, CIOs can gain an edge in attracting and retaining high-performing IT talent and building teams that can better enable their organizations to compete in the digital era.
Easier-to-replicate attributes, such as flexible work arrangements and a fun environment, are important but less of a differentiator for our respondents when it comes to attracting and retaining IT talent.
CIOs need a sustainable talent strategy and can apply three recommendations from Deloitte’s ongoing research on the future of work:9
In sports, coaches and general managers often take years to build a winning team. They seek to fill a diverse set of professional capabilities, interpersonal skills, and backgrounds. Likewise, a proficient team of technical athletes won’t come together overnight.
CIOs can expect a transition period during which IT continues to rely on the deep knowledge of specialists as traditional technologies are modernized. Existing IT workers likely will require time and training to gain experience in the digital technologies that will drive the business future. And many IT staff will require new interpersonal skills to evolve from diligent order-takers to effective collaborators and business problem-solvers.
Meanwhile, CIOs should be on the lookout for a wide range of new talent—not just technical superstars but those workers who bring diverse backgrounds and skills and have the potential to become tomorrow’s business cocreators and change instigators.