Giving developers familiar tools is key to digital success

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As organizations across every sector were forced to adapt to a new digital-first world last year, such as working from home, the pace of digital transformation accelerated. However, the ongoing skills shortage is jeopardizing organizations' transformation projects, since their staff simply do not have the skills in place to keep pace with the rate of change.

About the author

Chris Harris, Vice President, Field Engineering at Couchbase.

Organizations are now finding themselves stuck in a ‘Catch-22’ situation – where they need to continue maintaining skills to support legacy technology but also need new skills to modernize and move away from this outdated technology.

New skills means new tools, and given the increased pace of digital transformation, it is particularly important that organizations equip their developers. According to a recent survey of 450 senior IT decision-makers, 40 percent of development teams are behind schedule with their current projects. As consumers’ digital expectations are continually rising, organizations must focus on equipping developers with tools they’re familiar with to make sure that digital projects get over the line.

A weak foundation

The dependency on legacy technology is an industry-wide problem, and is heavily contributing to developers’ struggles to complete digital transformation projects. Underlying problems in IT infrastructure make it difficult for developers to adapt to the surge in demand for online services following the pandemic. Over a fifth of UK developers currently do not have the technology they need to meet their digital transformation goals.

Without the right technology in place, developers are struggling to create innovative services with legacy technology that isn’t suited to the task. On the other hand, while newer technology offers a stronger foundation for digital projects, developers should also not be expected to immediately adapt to new technology that requires a completely new skillset.

Getting the skills up to scratch

The increased pace of digital transformation brought about by the pandemic – combined with the shortage in digital skills – created a ‘perfect storm’ that led to intense pressure for developers. In the previous survey, over a quarter of UK IT decision makers claim that their developers do not have the skills required to meet their organizations' digital transformation goals. 

This has shifted the blame onto developers, even though it is the organizations that are not providing adequate training, employing enough staff, or planning appropriately for skills shortages. This rising pressure to deliver new projects means that developers are often asked to do too much in too little time – resulting in stress, fatigue, and burnout.

At first glance, the simple solution to this digital skills shortage appears to be to increase investment to retrain developers with new skills. However, the solution is complex. Recruiting new, skilled employees is one option, but digital skills are hard to come by and high in demand, making this an expensive choice. Retraining staff to use new applications also comes at an immense cost, as training is often both expensive and lengthy. 

Moreover, developers who are enrolled in training programs are ‘out of action’ during the training process – leading to increased cost for the organization while their staff’s attention is elsewhere. This makes it difficult for organizations to meet their digital transformation goals, as their developers are redundant when they’re needed the most.

The combination between the lack of suitable infrastructure and the shortage of digital skills has created a vicious circle, where legacy technology is holding developers back, but they also do not have the skills to modernize. Sticking with outdated legacy technology will make organizations stagnate, but investing in new technology will require a drastic overhaul and investment in new skills – costing organizations time, money, and resources.

Out with the old, in with the new

To prevent getting stuck in a rut, organizations must look towards making technological improvements while still utilizing their developers’ existing skillsets. While there will always be room to develop staff with new skills, organizations can instead deploy technologies that suit the skills employees already have. There are several tools available that complement employees’ original skills – such as programming languages, cloud-based technologies, or security systems – that make implementing new technologies easier.

For instance, databases that run on established SQL languages have the agility and flexibility of a NoSQL database, while still having the familiarity and consistency of a relational database. Services such as these make it easier to adopt and create new applications, minimizing the need for new training and skills.

By investing in new technology that suits the skills and tools that are readily available for developers, organizations are best equipped to adapt to the rigors of digital transformation. This also lessens the possibility of organizations making expensive and time-consuming technology changes, and then wondering why their employees are not equipped to use them. By giving developers familiar tools to work with, they also give them the same confidence that they have in their old applications – helping to deliver innovative new services to customers, faster.

Chris Harris, Vice President, Field Engineering at Couchbase.