Let’s face it: the only thing we can count on when it comes to digital transformation is change. So, when we talk about digital transformation, we need to think about it in both present and future terms. For the IT department, that means trying to make sense of the latest technologies and how they can support your company’s strategic goals. But it also means creating a department—and enterprise—where change is constantly welcomed. It means figuring out how to future-proof your IT department, both your tech and your employees.
I’ll say this straight out: in the not too distant future, I think we’ll be seeing a way more scalable way to utilize the latest technologies without the fear of them being outdated the very next day. I’m not sure if that will be with cloud or edge computing—or something totally different. (Rest assured, there are already some great minds putting these innovations in next generation tech support into place.) But for right now, companies are being forced to manage this plethora of emerging technologies—be it blockchain, AI, office assistants virtual reality, or automated marketing—while also keeping day-to-day tech run smoothly. It’s hard to know where to put the focus: on new technologies or keeping current technologies running smoothly.
What I’d venture to say is that even more important than the technology is the people who are working for you. Because let’s face it: every new technology requires new skills and talents. You can’t hire people that have skills you don’t know you need yet, but you should also aim to hire people who have the qualities you’re looking for, and who are able to learn the skills you need. Confused and overwhelmed? Don’t worry I’ll break it down for you.
The following are my top three ways to future-proof your IT department:
1. Upskilling and retraining IT department. By far, the most important thing you can do to future-proof your IT department is to be willing to invest in your employees. In today’s market, specific skills are a dime a dozen because their value changes daily. Imagine if you had to go through the hiring process every time there was a new tech development. What a waste of time and money! What you need are people who are quick to learn, curious about better and faster ways to do things, and willing to learn new skills as they pop up in the marketplace.
When AT&T changed its strategy to train inward, it reduced its product development life cycle by 40 percent and accelerated time to revenue by 32 percent. Why? Great employees want to learn! Indeed, in a recent study by Robert Half, 91 percent of employees said professional development opportunities were a big deal in choosing an employer. They know the market is changing, and they want to be ready for it, too! As a leader, make it a priority to upskill and retrain the employees able to move with the company, rather than finding a new employee every time the tech world moves.
As a bonus, making your upskilling priorities known can be an employee benefit helping with retention. Employees will be more loyal to you and your company if they know you’re willing to invest in them. It will also be a recruitment benefit and help you attract new talent. Who doesn’t want to work for the company that invests in employees? It’s a win-win.
2. Create a culture of experimentation and learning. There was a public service ad back in the 1980s that featured a child telling his parent, “I learned it by watching you!” The fact is, we could play that ad today in every tech department and C-suite in the country. Your employees will learn from you whether it’s okay to try and fail—to discover and adopt new methods—to challenge the old way of doing things—to take changes that may or may not pay off. (Although, with the help of big data, they should.) Point being: creating that culture of experimentation and learning is on you as the leader. The best way to future-proof your IT department is by future-proofing YOU. Think beyond traditional job rules. Think beyond traditional job processes. Be open to any and all ideas that could keep your company moving forward.
As I’ve stated before, culture and innovation are key pillars of digital transformation. If you want to find success in digital transformation you need to focus on these aspects in every department across the organization. Trust me, if you make the effort you’ll see results.
3. Hire for soft skills like curiosity and contextualization. I know it goes against most of the rules of a tech-heavy business world, but in a world where everyone is learning tech skills, the people who stand out will be the ones who can use their minds to manipulate that tech in new and different ways. Being able to conceptualize, contextualize, re-imagine—these aren’t things you can learn in a skills seminar. They’re inborn traits that make people the right people for your specific company.
In tech, it’s easy to focus on how we can equip our employees for the next big disruption. My view is that we should be preparing them to be the next big disruptors. Forget hiring blockchain builders or AI developers. Hire people who can visualize new ways to use blockchain and AI—and ways to make them better. When you create a culture that truly supports that kind of change and curiosity, that’s exactly the type of future-proof IT department you will see.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.