Developing digital talent

Securing succession in IT leadership with professionals who can take digital technology forward hinges on providing the right training and career path

Too many businesses fail to prioritise next-generation IT leadership. Just 5 per cent of companies have a strong digital leadership development programme, according to consultant Deloitte. Some 65 per cent have no significant development programme.

Camden Council interim chief information officer (CIO) Omid Shiraji recognises there is a significant gap in terms of IT leadership development. Chief executives and chief financial officers can benefit from taking an MBA, and human resources professionals can become chartered specialists. CIOs, however, do not have an IT-focused equivalent.

Mr Shiraji took the now defunct masters in information leadership at City University, London. He said the course proved invaluable in terms of his own personal development. Executives looking to create similar benefits in their own organisations should promote the importance of digital leadership training.

Skills shortage

“CIOs looking to get backing for any schemes to train and improve their staff must focus on value because courses are not cheap,” he says. “It makes sense to get professionalism on the agenda because it will take time for senior people outside the technology department to take an interest.”

Evidence from Robert Half Technology suggests the skills shortage is being exacerbated by the speed of change and the demand for digital evolution in modern business. The firm’s research shows that 74 per cent of UK CIOs and IT directors encounter candidates who cannot meet the technical skills required.

Business leaders, therefore, must wake up to the fast-changing requirements for training and development. The good news is that change is in the air, says Adam Thilthorpe, director of policy, professionalism and public affairs at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

He says all executives, from the chief executive down, understand the transformative potential of digital. The board expects the CIO and his or her technology team to deliver radical change, and a focus on next-generation talent development is crucial to success.

Great digital leadership is increasingly about an entirely different way of operating and thinking

“It’s becoming the case that you need a new and different skillset to work at board level in IT,” says Mr Thilthorpe. “People recognise that digital is all about the art of the possible. If you want to change things, then you must be involved in technology.”

The most successful businesses match this digital recognition with a commitment to development. Dave Smoley, CIO at AstraZeneca, says his firm benefits from a strong global presence and the flexibility to get the best people wherever they’re located, be that in India, Mexico, China or the UK. The firm also boasts a strong talent development process.

“We’re able to assess our workers and then create an inventory of their skills and their career interests, before making sure we have regular discussions around where it is they want to go, so they can be placed into the right development roles as they move along their career path,” says Mr Smoley.

The person

He says certain personality types, such as super-smart, high-energy and highly inquisitive, are the people who tend to do well in the firm’s technology department. These capable individuals also tend to network well within the business.

“When I build teams, I look for people who enjoy doing this kind of work,” he says. “There’s lots of fun to be had in taking on new challenges. As an IT leader, you’ve got to ensure your new way of operating continues, but you’ve got to look forwards at the same time.”

Paul Chapman, CIO at Box, also says modern firms need digitally engaged staff. IT leadership is no longer about skills development in the traditional sense of training and education. Great digital leadership is increasingly about an entirely different way of operating and thinking.

Box looks to help its next-generation IT leaders manage the constant demand for skills reinvention in the digital age. Traditional technical competencies must be matched with skills that support the digital business, such as dev-ops, analytics, cloud and data science. “Modern IT is about focusing on differentiating value, business enablement and outcomes,” says Mr Chapman.