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Business and Technology Insights

Equipping the IT Workforce to Take on Disruptive Digital Impacts

 
November 2, 2016

Technology advancements are enabling digitally-savvy innovative organizations to easily acquire non-core competencies and foray into new industries, leading to industrial convergence. Take for instance, Uber, a taxi service provider that joined the driverless car segment, along with automobile giants such as Audi, Mercedes Benz, and Volvo, and technology giants like Google and Apple. Walmart has set up a technology company,@WalmartLabs, to spearhead ecommerce innovation, mobile app offerings, and other digital initiatives.

Figure 1. Mapping the Impact of Technology on Training and Business since the 1980s

Figure 1. Mapping the Impact of Technology on Training and Business since the 1980s

This places legacy organizations that depend only on core competencies at peril. Many organizations are struggling to stay relevant. They are mired in legacy mindsets and processes, with dated technologies and limited IT integration, expecting their IT partners to help them make the digital transition. The asks from customers is changing from conventional programming and tool expertise as the primary service to innovative strategies and solutions with speed to market as a primary attribute.

This three part blog series unravels how IT organizations and functions can equip their workforce to take on disruptions in their consumers world. In this blog, we discuss how IT teams can reskill and gear up for digital projects. The subsequent post discusses whether innovation as the prerogative of a select few will work over the long term, while the last post addresses the age old challenge of enticing the workforce to consume training.

Gearing up for Digital Projects
Success in digital engagements is not just about technological excellence, it is about looking beyond marginal enhancements and rethinking every aspect of the business. This requires the ability to reimagine the way businesses engage with their customers and the way they run their own businesses, enabled by meaningful application of technology. This requires associates to possess interdisciplinary skills digital technology, design thinking, domain, and consulting. How can IT organizations get their workforce up to speed for digital projects?

  1. Reskill across the project pyramid. The reskilling must happen across all roles in the project pyramiddevelopers, solution architects, project managers, and others.
    • Groom developers to become competent in multiple technologies and platforms. Developers can be trained in at least two to three relevant and related technologies. For example, Hadoop and its ecosystems such as MapReduce, Hive, PIG, Sqoop, Flume, Oozie, etc. Another example would be HTML 5.0 with CSS 3.0, RWD, JavaScript, JQuery, AngularJS, etc.
    • Groom digital solution architects. Solution architects and associates competent in one or more technologies should be groomed into digital solution architects. These skills can be acquired through exposure to consulting engagements and on-the job mentoring. Organizations should also define a career path for technical skills.
    • Build mobile development capabilities: Many organizations are adopting mobile first strategies to reach their customers quickly. Criteria for choosing between a native app and web app, overview of mobile OS and browsers, manner in which data is accessed (service calls), basic knowledge of scripting languages such as HTML5 and CSS, UI considerations and testing, etc.
    • Build program management skills. Project managers can no longer be just people managers; they must possess program management skills, strong technical knowledge (not deep but broad), business knowledge to articulate use cases and synergize efforts across projects, and the capability to execute digital projects.
    • Build the skills for agile development. The digital project environment is agile and highly iterative (with short and continuous cycles) and exploratory with proofs-of-concept (POCs), and pilots. Rather than envisage the entire solution upfront, a cross functional team works to design the end-to-end customer journey/experience rather than a siloed focus on touch points, and rapidly build a minimum viable product that is rolled out to get real world feedback. Additional features are added in an iterative manner. This requires organizations to groom Agile coaches, product owners, scrum masters, techno-functional experts, and others.
    • Focus on digital consulting and advisory skills. A key differentiator will be the ability to plan the initial program, conceptualize and blueprint solutions, and develop or recommend the right use cases and mix of platforms and technologies for the business.
    • Facilitate creative thinking. With digital bringing about a slew of technologies, providing frictionless experiences is the new gold rush. Design thinking marks the movement from being customer-centric to being human-centric. Techniques such aspersona creation and customer journey mapping help build empathy for end users and focus on alleviating pain points.In addition to reskilling the workforce, organizations need to acquire niche skills from the market.
  2. Expose the workforce to prevalent digital business use cases. Digital training should not be confined to technology training; it should be holistic and inculcate innovative and creative thinking. A good way to enable this is to expose the workforce to a wide array of digital business trends and scenarios. For example:
    • Who are the leaders in innovation and how have they leveraged digital?
    • What are the emerging and topical digital products?
    • Which digital use cases are prevalent in the market? How have they enhanced user experience or operational efficiency?
    • Why is running systems on the cloud easier? What does it mean in terms of investment and operations?
    • How can organizations improve the relevance of offers and products by gleaning Big Data on consumer behavior?
    • How can we define an application program interface (API) strategy for seamless integration with enterprise systems?

    Business use cases offer valuable perspectives on the stakeholders’ goals, providing IT with a solid foundation for suggesting cost-effective solutions to business challenges.

  3. Dont ignore the fusion of technical and functional expertise. Innovation can be fuelled only when digital skills are combined with a robust understanding of the business. With agile methodologies, project planning has become product-focused, project teams operate with flat structures, and demarcation of role-based responsibilities is waning. Therefore, IT organizations must steer away from the traditional mindset of giving precedence to technical training under the assumption that domain expertise can be acquired on the job.
  4. Build capability for executing IT simplification projects. The macro environment in which businesses operate is changing at a very rapid pace. Lets take omni-channel enablement in retail as an example to demonstrate how change is continuous and inevitable. While omni-channel enablement in its most basic form meant giving customers a unified brand experience across channels, with mobile came the complexity of multi-screen experience. Today, customers expect their shopping cart to travel with them across devices.For many organizations, the ability to respond to the dynamic environment is hindered by traditional methods of application development, and a heterogeneous IT environment comprising different technologies, platforms, and infrastructure. To take advantage of disruptive technologies, the IT environment needs to be simplified through consolidation and rationalization of tools, applications and datacenters; adoption of cloud and open source; and automation. Simplification projects are complex as they encompass architecture, data, process, applications, development methodologies, and overlap with existing initiatives. IT should work closely with business teams to redefine the technology landscape and business processes, making them elastic and flexible enough to respond to seismic shifts. Knowledge of application lifecycle management and rationalization tools, governance, and change management is also crucial.

Conclusion

Enterprises need to up the ante to acquire digital proficiency. Clearly, digital execution requires a mindset changefrom competence in single to multiple technologies, agile execution as against linear development, domain skills now as against over time. In my next post, I will explore the much discussed topic – innovation – in the context of IT projects.

Article Sources:

Discussions with:

Aashish Chandra, Global Head of Technology, Retail and CPG, TCS

Janardhan Santhanam, Lead – Analytics, Big data & Information Management, Retail & CPG, TCS

Gaurav Motani, Consultant, Digital Strategy, TCS

Indira Perumal leads the Retail Domain Training initiative at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). She has over 15 years of experience in instructional design and corporate training, spanning various industries such as IT, retail, insurance, and healthcare. Indira specializes in competency definition, instructional pedagogies, program development, and technology adoption for better learning outcomes. The programs built by her team have won the leading industry Brandon Hall Awards for Excellence in Learning, under various categories.