Strategic technology talent is more important than operational technology talent. Competitiveness depends on strategic technology, not if the trains on time. Cloud delivery — and other trends — has fully commoditized operational technology. Today it’s all about strategic technology. But companies have very few strategic technologists, especially those who understand the innovative intersection of business and technology. This is Part I of a 3-part series on strategic technology talent.
5 Talent Questions
You must answer five simple questions about you team:
- Do I have the right people?
- How many of the wrong ones do I have?
- How do I plug the gaps as quickly as possible?
- How do I keep them?
- How do I reward them?
A poor, or dishonest, talent assessment process is a game-breaker. If you’re unwilling to make hard decisions about who’s on the field, you will lose every game you play; and if you’re unwilling to invest in talent, you should stop playing altogether.
Let’s look at the essential talent you need to strategically leverage digital technology. Note that there are countless lists of the kind of talent you need to maintain your operational infrastructure. The focus here is on strategic technology talent – not operational technology talent, which is easier to find than strategic talent.
Operational Technology is Bottled Water
Ignore your vendors, consultants, friends and family who want to convince you that there’s enormous differences among AWS, Azure & Google Cloud, that SAP is completely different from Oracle, and that Tableau is awesome compared to Qlik and MicroStrategy. None of this is true.
Operational technology is now fully commoditized.
There’s no real difference among cloud providers, laptop manufacturers, BI software vendors, video teleconferencing applications (Zoom, WebEx, RingCentral, Teams, etc.), ERP applications or network configurations – and they’re all for sale or rent from your favorite vendor only too willing to take your order. Just pick one, standardize it and move on.
Operational technology is like bottled water: you can find it anywhere.
The real leverage – the only competitive differentiator – is strategic technology. How to play the strategic game is the skill – and talent – so few companies have.
Business-technologists should talk about technology only in the context of business strategy, models and processes. 20th century technologists spoke about operational technology as painkillers that had to be tightly managed. These were unhappy discussions that everyone dreaded, and often ended with complaints about the cost of technology, how broken technology was, and not what technology could do for the business.
Digital technology is a business opportunity, not a problem, and should be leveraged that way. Digital technologies that fall into the painkiller-versus-vitamin-pill trap will quickly discover just how skeptical some executives can be about the cost-versus-benefit of digital technology – even today. Ignore the headwinds.
Everyone should crave information about disruptive technologies, especially the ones their arch rivals are deploying. Digital technologists should be corporate spies. They should be internal business consultants with deep industry domain expertise. They should displace the external consultants that sit on your long talent benches only too willing to jump into the game – for a fee, of course.
Perhaps surprisingly, and unlike operational “IT,” strategic technology requires less precision. Since we’ve moved to cloud delivery, we no longer need to know who made the servers that host our applications or how often they need to be replaced. Such details are meaningless today. 20th century operational technologists were obsessed with server vendors, maintenance, backup and recovery; no one cares about these things when the business goal is competitive performance: your hired brawn is now responsible for all hardware and software delivery issues.
Fortunately, this means that deploying a new application no longer requires long discussions about software development methodologies or whether the offshore programmers can handle requirements. Debates about cloud security are appropriate but should be more about industry compliance than security technology. Cloud delivery has forever changed the nature and level of technology conversations since the cloud itself provides all the technology plumbing necessary to enable and optimize business processes. While we agonized in the 20th century about plumbing, today we can focus on architects and strategists without the distraction of leaky pipes.
Digital technologists should focus on new business models and processes, new technology delivery platforms, and the strategic role that technology can play toward competitiveness and profitability. While the list will change over time, there’s a set of technology opportunities that should be on every digital technologist’s list. Think of them as strategic talking points, objectives and talent requirements.
There are five:
- Business strategy, models and processes
- Disruptive technologies
- Cloud delivery
- Strategic management
These five areas describe your strategic business-technology world and the talent you need to win. Let’s describe them:
Business Strategy, Models and Processes
You need people who understand your business domain, the strategies of “as is” and “to be” competitors in your industry and especially current and future business models and processes; such people must also understand the delivery platforms that enable the pursuit of “as is” and invented “to be” business strategies, models and processes – and technologies.
Existing & Disruptive Technologies
Talent here assumes an awareness and basic understanding of current and emerging digital technologies as well as how to “match” technologies to “as is” and “to be” processes. This is collaborative talent that works closely with your strategists, modelers and process miners/managers.
This talent requires your team to design and implement Stage 1 (demonstration) prototypes with tools that enable the presentation of “demos.” It also requires the team to understand (short) business cases and stage-gates to measure progress along the continuum toward minimum viable products (MVPs). This talent appreciates innovation a lot – but commercialization much more.
This talent requires teams to understand all things cloud, including especially the cloud’s ability to deliver emerging technologies suitable for prototyping, as well as applications that scale in the marketplace.
Talent here requires a wide and deep understanding of brains versus brawn, and the ability to create and manage the overall business-technology delivery strategy.
These five areas are the ones you send to your recruiters for talent acquisition. They’re also the filter through which you conduct ongoing talent assessments.
While it’s tempting to assign equal weights to the five areas described above, the areas should be rank-ordered. The first and second areas – (1) business strategy/models/processes and (2) disruptive technologies – should be rank-ordered higher than the rest for two reasons: there’s a relatively poor understanding of the relationship among competitiveness, profitability, strategy/models/processes and technology; and because there’s a shortage of talent in these areas.
Said a little differently: you need them, and they’re hard to find.
Next time I’ll talk about the “extended talent” you need.