By Eric Berridge, Co-Founder, Bluewolf
Over the course of the last few years, a series of innovations have fundamentally altered the way businesses function. As technology moves from the back end to become increasingly a part of each employee’s everyday tool set, these changes have created a gap in skills that many organizations now are struggling to fill—a gap that blends the needs of IT with sales, marketing, and other departments, and may be best bridged through training rather than hiring.
Social media has emerged as a fundamental driver of change in communication and information technology that offers new, focused views of the thoughts and behaviors of customers, co-workers, and just about everyone else under the sun. Now, as cloud computing sweeps over the corporate environment, much of the expertise once required to fuel a customer relationship management (CRM) system or product database has been streamlined into a Web interface that is so user-friendly even the marginally tech-savvy can maneuver it. Furthermore, mobile technologies have become far more sophisticated and accessible, enabling employees with the power to access and act on real-time analytics from any place and at any time.
The combination of these innovations has turbo-charged the business cycle. In terms of technology, what used to take months now takes weeks (or less), and can be done at a fraction of the cost. Whereas the limitations of the tech infrastructure used to guide the business strategy, now the strategy and immediate needs guide tech decisions. This has elevated the importance of tailoring technology to the needs of the department or individual it serves, and consequently the need for understanding both business and technology.
Technology Is Now Everyone’s “Business”
Historically, the IT department has existed autonomously from other departments, only to act as an intermediary between employees and tech infrastructure by providing occasional repairs or training. Although this tech upheaval has created potential for unprecedented agility, many are finding that their existing IT departments, though highly skilled, lack the ability to effectively integrate these concepts in a manner that serves employees’ needs.
In contrast to common perceptions of disruptive technologies, this workforce dilemma doesn’t stem from a lack of technical understanding but rather the unquenched need for integrators to connect and fine-tune these new technologies to the unique needs of their organization. Because this technological trifecta works to support and connect virtually every aspect of a business—from management to production, marketing, and sales—those who build and tailor these highly customizable systems for a specific business must understand not just their particular department but all of those within the organization, and how they support one another.
A Broad Talent Gap at the Intersection of Business and Technology
Thus, decision-makers are struggling to tap into the talent necessary to fill this needs-based gap in a way that is cost-effective and supports the company’s ever-changing requirements. Furthermore, there is confusion as to what kind of experts companies should even be looking for —business-savvy technologists or tech-savvy business experts?
From a logistics standpoint, simply hiring new talent may appear to be the most painless solution. However, the supply of people capable of filling this void appears to be limited at best, as traditional universities have yet to incorporate programs capable of meeting this industry-level demand with just a degree in business or technical certification. That said, some businesses are wisely looking internally to train existing employees and equip them with the skills needed to be brought up to speed with the marketplace. This option serves to both advance the organization’s capabilities and build team camaraderie by expressing value in employees’ professional development.
Training Technologists in Business vs. Training Business Experts in Technology
Businesses have two different options in regards to training to fill the talent gap. First, is the option to equip existing technology workers with a more holistic understanding of the organization. By offering these employees role-based training, workers are able to supplement their existing acuity toward a specific aspect of the business with a well-rounded, experience-driven understanding that can be used as a guide to integrating these new technologies. The key to success for an administrator in these technologies was summed up by Forrester analyst Stephanie Moore, who stated in her January 13, 2012, blog, technologists need to “...understand, intuitively in some cases, what the business wants without the business having to specify it.”
In contrast, another option is to take existing members of the team who already have a solid view of how the company works, and equip them with the technical or role-based training they need in order to effectively serve. This is also a trend my firm is seeing as professionals with backgrounds in marketing, sales, and other non-tech industries are enrolling in certification courses for technologies such as salesforce.com.
Regardless of the selected training strategy, organizations must recognize that this evolution in technology has brought forth a new set of requisites for its workforce. IT workers cannot effectively create internal infrastructures without a thorough understanding of the different departments and their connecting processes. Likewise, sales and marketing professionals must have a technical understanding of platforms such as Salesforce, Eloqua, and Marketo in order to keep pace with the competition. In either case, however, both strategies work to create an even channel of communication between the different operational roles and encourage the level of collaboration and progressive thought necessary for the ever-evolving marketplace.
Eric Berridge is co-founder of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services, and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book, “Iterate or Die” along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.