Identifying the skills needed to drive digital innovation

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IT skills are crucial to business success in an increasingly digital world. Yet there is a major shortage of skilled IT professionals worldwide, particularly when it comes to those with experience in modern software development and delivery. Part of the challenge is that the rapid technological innovation that defines our world makes it easier for skills to become outdated quickly. This creates a constant need for IT professionals to learn and develop new skills.

About the author

Bernd Greifeneder, CTO and Founder of Dynatrace.

Adding to the challenge, the rising demand for digital transformation has also created more work for already stretched IT teams. As a result, organizations are urgently evaluating where labor-intensive manual processes could be automated to alleviate the burden on their skilled developers and free them up to focus on driving innovation.

What are the key skills IT leaders look for in the engineers and developers they hire?

Today’s IT departments have become far too complex. There are too many tools and an abundance of tinkering required to make everything work. That’s why the world needs engineers with the skills to reduce that complexity and build easy to use, secure, and scalable services that create true value. 

However, those traits often fall through the cracks, as everyone is looking for quick wins – with the assumption that they just need more people who can work with complex toolchains and stitch it all together. Ultimately, that leads to wasted effort and missed opportunities, as developers get bogged down in low value tasks rather than focusing on building cool tech that just works and is safe and easy to use.

Skills in areas such as data analytics and visualization, human-centered product design and information architecture engineering will ensure IT professionals can achieve the required input and feedback they need to deliver smart and user-friendly products. The ability to produce efficient, secure, reliable, clean, and readable code will be essential. When coupled with a high grade of proactive automation, this will ensure modern IT professionals can deliver value not just quickly, but reliably.

How has the rise of cloud and the need to accelerate digital transformation altered IT skills requirements?

The talent war has gotten even hotter as organizations battle to attract and retain the skilled IT professionals needed to drive their digital transformation and support the transition to cloud-native delivery. Organizations urgently need developers, architects, and software engineers who understand modern delivery approaches and have the skills required to build, run, and secure applications in Kubernetes and multicloud architectures.

However, the fast-paced nature of today’s digital world also means these skills requirements are constantly evolving. The role of IT has changed from being the expert who can watch and act, to being the expert who can codify and automate IT operations as well as critical business processes. Organizations therefore need specialists who have the ability to identify where complexity can be reduced through automation, and who are willing to continue to learn and develop new skills and embrace best-practices as they are identified by peers and competitors.

Should IT professionals be worried their jobs might be supplanted by automation, AI, or low/no-code?

A recent survey of senior IT leaders found that 42% of IT teams’ time is currently spent on manual, routine work just to “keep the lights on” across their modern cloud environments. This creates a major productivity drain and leads to missed revenue opportunities due to delays to innovation.

The adoption of AI, automation, and low/no-code solutions therefore isn’t about supplanting job roles or replacing the need for skilled IT professionals, it’s about helping to eliminate toil and reduce the need for developers to waste time on manual, repetitive, and low-skilled work. As a result, they are free to invest more of their energy in driving innovation – which is ultimately the work that gets them out of bed in the morning.

Will the automation of lower-level IT tasks lead to other roles or skills becoming more important?

Organizations are hungry for creativity. IT professionals that can combine analytical and creative thinking to deliver new and innovative ideas are therefore in higher demand than ever. In line with this, there is a growing need for individuals with the ability to collaboratively envision and develop products and services that are built with humans in mind, to ensure they meet the needs of the user and help the business to achieve its goals.

What’s your advice for IT professionals who want to become leaders?

To move up the ladder, IT professionals need the ability to lead, not just manage. Leadership is about understanding the vision, and connecting the dots between technology, business, and customer needs, identifying ever-present areas for change, and then driving teams to go beyond the status quo to stay ahead of rapidly evolving market dynamics. 

To do so, leaders need to instill the mentality in their teams that every day is a new opportunity to think differently and do something a bit better, so they can always see the bigger picture and have the motivation to get there. That’s what empowers organizations to go beyond producing software that is just ‘good enough’ and deliver true, game-changing innovation, through the efforts and dedication of their skilled developers, engineers, and architects.

What advice would you offer to an IT professional looking to create their own start-up, or develop a new solution?

I’m an entrepreneurial CTO and part of my mantra is that it’s important not to just do what the customer wants, but instead understand their need and then develop an innovative new solution accordingly that will really wow them. It’s also important to recognize that technology only comprises around one-third of any successful company. 

The other two-thirds come from sales and marketing, and so I take a lot of time to think about customer value, ease-of-use, design and ease-of-selling in everything we do at Dynatrace. Ultimately, I think it’s important to just always ask why, as it’s the best way to learn and constantly challenge not just myself, but the team around me.

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Bernd Greifeneder, CTO and Founder of Dynatrace.