Beware the IT training black hole

In this guest opinion article, Paul Bavington, director with business intelligence consultants, Budgeting Solutions, looks at the looming IT skills gap in business analytics.

There is a curious quote attributed to the American business magnate, Warren Buffett; it goes something like this “ in a strong wind even turkeys can fly”

Maybe, but in today’s turbulent economies, organisations need more than a strong wind, and a wing and a prayer to keep afloat. In challenging times, too many organisations cut budgets, particularly training budgets, which could seriously damage their long-term flight path.

Let me explain. This is a real-time Catch-Twenty-Two situation. We all know that economic slowdowns result in lost jobs, skill sets, experience / knowledge. We realise that in many cases cuts are inevitable if the enterprise is to survive in the short time.  As we become more reliant upon computer systems to help run our businesses, the question is, what do you cut first? In most cases its  people; however few firms have planned for loss experience, or trained and the next generation.

Considerable research has been carried out by academics and business pundits into the importance of getting the balance right between cutting costs to improve operating efficiency and the need for investment for the future. Findings shows that in the rush to cut costs, organisations, large and small, appear to give little thought to the impact of lost knowledge. Organisations may survive, but they will have shed the essential knowledge.

A recent survey of small and medium sized businesses in the UK and Germany found while 12 % of small businesses said all their software was used, 43 % said up to 10% of software was lying idle. Equally, 28% said they didn’t use between 11 and 20% of their software, 11 % admitted to not using 21 to 35%.

Add to that the fact that the levels of software understanding and use in many sme’s is frightening limited – research shows that while millions of people use Microsoft Office, only a fraction know how to sort data in a spread-sheet – and you have all the making of an IT skills shortage.

Essentially, there are two issues facing corporate UK where IT skills are concerned:

  • First, the elementary question of pure technical skills. It seems those in-house technically literate IT whizz kids that used to baffle us all, are getting harder to find.
  • Second, but more important in today’s climate is that endangered species the IT person with business experience, and knows the business. Too many smaller organisations have become reliant on an endangered species, that person that knows how things work, where all the information is stored, and is in charge of IT.

While some savvy IT directors will have identified the problem and built a safety net to try to minimize potential skills gaps, most fail to plan ahead. What happens if they leave, fall ill, or you cannot afford to retain him or her.

The question of succession training/ mentoring is all the more important with the growth of business intelligence and business analytic software solutions. With some organisations already predicting an IT skills shortage because organisations have cut training budgets and not invested in a positive future pipe line, others are outsourcing the roles that traditionally grew the next generation of leaders and skilled senior positions. Companies must invest in IT training.

As a leading business intelligence and analytics software solutions provider, we are being asked more and more to train and mentor new users because there is no one in an organisation with the knowledge of how to use systems.

In recent months we have been called in to train staff on how to use the new generations of business information and business analytics systems. Equally we are investing more time scoping IT projects for organisations that have lost key IT staff.

Finding and keeping talent requires management planning. It means investing for the future to ensure skills are not lost. It requires management to take a long deep look and where the business is going, what technologies are in place and what skills will be need to drive the business forward. The forward thinking company will be inversing in formal training, plus coaching and skills mentoring programmes.

There is a growing black hole in IT training. New software solutions are giving organisations positive advantages over competitors. It is also helping companies making be more productive, fast and more customer-focused.

Oscar Wilde once said that a cynic is a person that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.  Perhaps the value of technology should be measured by what it does for a business rather than what it costs.

[Picture credit: Patrick Hajzler]

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