IT Skills: Industry experts have their say, Part 1

Recently I helped arrange a webinar on IT Skills, featuring a panel of experts. Hosted by Micro Focus’ Derek Britton, the panel included Ed Airey – Micro Focus’ solutions marketing director, Lonnie Emard – President of IT-ology, David Rhoderick – Manager of IBM z Systems Competitive Project Office.

Derek set the scene describing reports of concerns over dwindling technical skills, but then asked Ed and the other panelists a range of key questions. Having worked with our University partners through the Micro Focus Academic Program and a variety of customers around our COBOL-based technology, Ed has some unique insights, so I was glad to catch up with him and ask him about how the webinar went:

Ed the first question was “How does an organization build an appropriately skilled workforce?” – how did you see it?

Ed: “That’s a great question.  To best address future IT workforce needs, an organization must first assess their current IT (application) estate.  A strong understanding of the application portfolio supporting core business will drive the necessary conversation and action to best develop or recruit that sought after talent.  Fundamentally, though, an organization must begin by examining the value within its core business application portfolio.  If such applications remain vital to the long term success of that organization then IT leadership must align its IT skills plans to that of its core business applications.  That being said, this new’ digital economy’ has added even further complexity to the skills planning process.  Supporting core business systems is important, but IT must also possess the skills needed to deliver ‘new innovation’ as requested by the business.  For an organization to appropriately respond to this challenge, it must recruit and develop IT talent with an understanding and appreciation of core business applications but also with eye to future technology and how the ‘best of both worlds’ can come together to address core business needs.”

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The second question was about how technology plays its part in the skill challenge. Thoughts?

Ed: “Yes – and we see this pretty clearly. Technology plays a hugely important role in addressing IT skills concerns.  Both IBM and Micro Focus share a long standing commitment to technology innovation and have made similar investments in this area.  Here at Micro Focus, we believe that technology can mitigate challenges organizations have in attracting ‘next gen’ talent.  In the context of business applications, many IT shops use tech that ‘did the job’ well enough, but required many years of experience to command.  But the application development landscape has changed.  According to reports, over 70% of professional software developers are building enterprise applications using either Visual Studio or Eclipse.  And these same IDEs are the development tools being taught within most IT university programs. So graduates will have modern IT development skills but also a command (and interest) for many programming languages.  Herein is the strategy for enterprise organizations to attract next generation talent in support of core business systems but also to acquire the same talent needed to modernize these applications for the future. Micro Focus and IBM have made investments in this space to simplify application development across all environments, mainframe, distributed and cloud.   Developers can now easily build and test enterprise applications (COBOL, PL/I) using the latest IDEs (Visual Studio or Eclipse) allowing organizations to leverage modern technology to bring on more skilled talent where it is needed.”

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Finally Ed, you were asked what is the long term solution?

Ed: “That’s right. Here’s how I saw it – the long term solution to addressing industry skills concern rests with the greater community and the ability of that collective group to better collaborate together, align business need to IT skill development and ultimately, deliver lasting change.  That change occurs through honest, open and continual dialogue between partners – Academic universities shaping IT curriculums to the needs of its local business partners (the enterprise).  Enterprise IT partnering more closely with their local university and IT vendors playing their role through the FREE provision and education of modern technology.  It’s only when these three forces align, can the community truly implement lasting change and a long term solution to the ‘IT skills’ concern.”

Thanks Ed – was there anything else you saw as important?

Ed: “To be honest this is an ongoing discussion for many organizations, which are constantly changing, and need to look at their talent pool regularly. But for organizations seeking to move quickly to address IT Skills uneasiness, I would suggest the following actions:

  • Begin an assessment of your current and future IT skill needs.  Ask how do these skills align to your existing CORE business application portfolio?  Develop a succession plan (shadow program) to cross train IT talent within your organization.
  • Reach out to your local university.  Develop a partnership.  Share your needs and begin to influence the IT program at that university.  Better still suggest your local university research the IBM Academic Initiative or the Micro Focus Academic program for software and educational support.”

In my next blog, we’ll recap the panel discussion including thoughts and views from IT-ology and IBM on tackling the skills opportunity that organizations have. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback too! Find me on Twitter

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