Anna Frazzetto's Blog

Digital Innovations and Technology Solutions

Confronting IT's Unknowns

Insights from Harvey Nash's CIO Survey Forum Events

Last week I had the challenge and the pleasure of leading two back-to-back Harvey Nash CIO Survey Forums. One in New York on September 12th and one in Chicago the following day. The executive panels, detailed below, consisted of leading thinkers and doers in business, technology and academia.

New York Panelists
--Lorraine Cichowski, SVP & CIO, Associated Press
--Mark Dianora, CIO, Jefferies International Limited
--Alex Spinelli, Global CTO, McCann Worldgroup
--James Veall, SVP Global Business Operations, Viacom

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Chicago Panelists
--Patti Schmeda, CIO & VP of Information Technology, Elkay Manufacturing
--Yvonne Scott, CIO, Crowe Horwath
--Kendra Von Esh, CIO, Veolia Water North America
--Ce Cole Dillon, CIO, Chicago State University

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Every year, these two regions produce great debates among panelists and critical questions from our audience of IT and business professionals. This year was no exception as we explored a host of issues within the survey, from the drive to innovate and the ongoing mobility race to IT efficiency, compensation and budgeting issues. In both regions however, three issues dominated the discussion: 1) the IT talent shortage, 2) IT as a commodity vs. revenue driver and 3) the Cloud.

Because each of the discussions on these topics produced a variety of points of view, I will focus on them one at a time. This week, we start with an issue I am certain is universally felt across U.S. businesses big and small: the IT talent shortage.

The survey revealed serious IT talent concerns from CIOs worldwide. The 2012 survey found that 48 percent of global CIOs (up six percent from 2011) are concerned that a skills shortage is preventing their organizations from keeping up with the pace of change. With that number on the rise, we posed an IT talent question to our executive panelists who agreed that all businesses today have a stake in cultivating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent in the U.S.

In New York, IT leaders explored the challenge of attracting and retaining young IT workers. Mark Dianora of Jefferies argued that training and investment are not what engage and retain IT talent. "It takes passion," he explained. James Veall of Viacom felt that offering IT professionals a strong career map--letting them see their potential for growth and leadership--was critical in keeping top talent.

In Chicago, where each panelist came to his or her technology career after succeeding in a different field, the panel explored the need for adaptability among IT workers today. Patti Schmeda of Elkay Manufacturing explained how she keeps her eyes open for aggressive grads who can expand their skills and grow with technology. As the discussion evolved, the Chicago panelists hit on one of the most fascinating IT talent debate points of the survey forums to date. Some argued that IT was evolving into an engineering-like science in which IT teams are asked to engineer solutions to complex problems. Other panelists and attendees felt that the IT discipline fell into the realm of cognitive science in which sophisticated logic and planning are critical skills.

To me this debate reflected the crossroads so many businesses face in deciding the role of the IT organization within their business. Does IT provide solutions to the challenges the business brings it? Or does IT go out into the business, analyzing challenges and opportunities and developing solutions as a key player in business strategy and planning? How a business answers that question likely reflects the kind of IT professional--strategic or tactical--they seek out.

No matter the strategic outlook or skill set of the professional(s) sought, all panelists and regions are feeling the strain of a shrinking talent pool. In both New York and Chicago, panelists agreed that to attract more young people to IT careers they needed to focus on IT's greater contribution to both business and (often the world). People are drawn to being "part of a solution," explained Yvonne Scott at Crowe Horwath. "Is there any spot better than IT to be a part of creating solutions?" she asked.

I loved that question and that moment because it reminded the entire room of why we all love technology and being a part of this ever-evolving industry. It made the challenge of overcoming today's STEM talent shortages seem possible, which can be a hard thing to do. But it's because she's right. Why wouldn't someone want to be a part of an industry that is designing and building remarkable solutions to today's most complex business, science, medical and communications challenges? Why not indeed!

Join me back here in the days ahead and read what our thoughtful New York and Chicago panelists had to say about commoditization of IT and cloud computing.