Picking the best areas to develop IT skills for future career security is always difficult, but two themes do keep popping up at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo event this week: analytics and procurement.
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In a panel discussion with three prominent local chief information officers (CIOs) earlier this week at the event, those two familiar ideas kept recurring. Firstly, the need for IT workers to truly "understand the business", with analytics as one way to add value in that area. Secondly, the need to be able to manage an increasingly diverse set of suppliers, especially when individual business units are sourcing their own tech.
The upside is that this can change the approach to IT from a traditional penny-pinching mentality. "In our organisation we're seeing a massive shift in demand from the business and as we demonstrate understanding of the business, we're seeing lots of opportunities," said Shaun Nesbitt, CIO for SEQ Water. "In the past all we had was a focus on cutting costs."
Even when departments source their own tech, central IT can play a role in making sure data from those systems is cross-referenced and analysed, Nesbitt said. "The value IT brings to the table is the ability to look across silos."
"In terms of skills, we've had to make some pretty tough decisions. We know we can't do everything, and we know industry can do some things much better, hence there's an increase in vendor management skills — so you can pick the right ones."
That task has been exacerbated through the mergers of various authorities to form SEQ Water: "there's a whole bunch of spaghetti that needs to be unravelled," Nesbitt said.
For more specialised IT tasks, outsourcing remains a popular choice, which again brings procurement and vendor management skills to the fore. "The answer for me is outsource every time," said Ross McKinnon, CIO for jewellery chain Michael Hill. "If I had to skill my guys on putting chips on motherboards or learning C, it's going to take a lot longer than two years.
McKinnon's preferred approach when outsourcing is to ensure some level of skills transfer, so there isn't an ongoing dependency. He's also a big fan of numerous small pilots, though that does mean not everything will succeed. "It means lot more piloting. We've had one running in three US stores for two months and we've found lots of bugs. Another has been running in Queensland for six weeks virtually bug-free, so we want to roll that out in January. The ability to work quickly and for shorter periods is going to become increasingly important."
"The fundamental change is changing from the boxes and wire to information as a resource — being able to tap into information as a resource is a classic conundrum," said Chris Turnbull, CIO for Queensland Treasury and Trade. It's a technology issue that isn't resolved by technology. At a practical level, the skills we need in house are markedly different: business analysis skills, and vendor management and procurement skills."
Enforcing those changes is also complicated, Turnbull said. "There's a management challenge there to understand the philosophy, the religious zeal for doing things in a particular way."
Ultimately, IT isn't going away. "Somebody always needs to interpret the technical world to an organisation, but it comes down to how that technology is used," Turnbull said.
Throughout this week, Lifehacker is covering Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2014 live from the Gold Coast, bringing you practical tips and advice for running business IT more effectively.
Check out all our stories from the event.