The technological landscape has fundamentally changed in recent years as companies seek to globalize, automate and digitally transform their operations. A new network is emerging, and many leaders are grappling with the demands and implications this evolution will inevitably have on their businesses. As priorities change, so too will the demands and skillsets of IT professionals, and it’ll be incumbent upon IT leaders to usher their teams into this new era.
Cisco’s 2020 Global Networking Trends Report revealed a number of skill gaps that leaders are having to contend with as businesses brace for the next wave of digital transformation. In high demand are proficiencies in artificial intelligence, analytics, IT/ Operational Technology (OT) integration and DevOps. These skillsets attest to the changing demands of the industry and reaffirm the importance of learning and continuous education.
There are five ways IT leaders can build, evolve and accelerate the technical proficiencies of their teams.
- Cultivating a culture of continuous learning will help teams adapt to new technologies and operational processes. It’s incumbent upon leaders however, to encourage their teams to pursue training as part of their jobs, and not as something they’re required to do on their own time. Learning should not be seen as an extracurricular activity: instead, it must be baked into how individuals within an organization are measured and rewarded. When leaders intentionally make learning a part of someone’s goals, it becomes intrinsically important to who they are.
- Find the balance between upskilling and hiring. In an effort to accelerate business outcomes, many leaders prefer to upskill existing talent. But there’s an intricate balance between development and hiring when it comes to new technologies. While development allows for individuals that intimately know the business to seek and apply specific learning and skillsets, hiring external staff can often offer a fresh perspective that challenges current processes. Hiring externally can also allow new technologies to be deployed quicker, when such technological proficiencies exists in candidates. In many instances, the appropriate upskill and new hire balance will be dependent on business and operational goals, and where the organization is in its network transformation. In either event, due to the changing demands in the industry, it’s important for leaders to create a culture that encourages mentorship, cross training, certification attainment and the infusion of knowledge throughout the organization.
- Invest more in training and development. The most successful organizations tend to value education, training and development. Their leadership understands what’s happening in the industry, the implications, and ensures their teams are staffed with people certified in key technologies, who have proven aptitude. As credible experts, they're frequently relied upon to absorb and disseminate learnings to the rest of the team. Leaders must constantly assess how to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and education to everyone in order to create a better performing team.
- Rotate talent to increase business acumen. Having team members exchange places through short-term rotations can expand understanding, develop broader context and enable more productive interactions. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes not only builds empathy, but it also allows teams to build bridges between people in different organizations so they may come together, collaboratively, to solve problems.
- Foster an inclusive work environment. Companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in how they recruit, manage, develop and reward employees are shown to outperform rivals that do not. The more homogenous teams are, the less likely they are to challenge perspectives and innovate. Leaders must, therefore, understand the importance of bringing together a wide variety of people who not only interact well together, but who can also build a richer type of solution space where people are both encouraged and challenged.
The burden upon IT leaders to build and sustain functional working teams with the degree of change in the industry is difficult. What’s needed, in regards to skillsets, will continue to evolve and IT leaders must remain current on global networking trends. Fortunately, the curriculums of leading training and certification programs prepare IT talent for a level of aptitude sufficient to drive that charge, and to allow companies to successfully evolve.
Joe Clarke, Distinguished Engineer, Cisco
Joe Clarke is a distinguished customer experience engineer at Cisco Systems and has been an integral part of the Cisco Engineering team for 20 years. Joe holds a CCIE and is a champion of network programmability and automation. He is a contributor to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and a regular speaker at Cisco Live.