IT’s Keystone Skills

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Process issues are not alone in contributing to IT’s success or failure. People (and their skills) are also part of the “holy trinity” of People - Process - Technology, the three interrelated building blocks of any business capability, IT included.

With the dramatic uptake in outsourcing over the last several years, CIOs have been faced with a new set of organization design challenges and skill needs. In fact, many IT shops have remade themselves to focus on the relationships and inter-operation with their sourcing partners. The messages sent to your IT staff when you announced that your billing system will be outsourced and the organizational and skill restructuring that emphasizes procurement and vendor relationship management, combine to create a murky career path for your IT software delivery staff.  These are the people who have historically planned, designed, built, tested and maintained your application software.  Without a clear framework for how they fit in and can succeed in an organization with significant outsourcer dependence, the top performers will either leave (already have?) or stop giving you their best.

I have worked with many large organizations who have hundreds of outsourced analysts, project managers and developers.  Some of the common characteristics in the relationships between these organizations and their sourcing partner(s):

  • They have problems communicating project requirements with the outsourcer
  • The outsourcer wants project specifications at a level of detail too low for the organization
  • The organization has difficulty ensuring that the outsourcer is following its technology architecture standards
  • General visibility and status issues

These and other challenges point to some fundamental gaps in project management, architecture, business requirements management and quality assurance.  It’s these four skills I call the keystone skills and view them as the essential IT skillsets, regardless of the sourcing relationships a firm has (short of outsourcing their whole solutions delivery capability).  These skills separately and together serve to create a set of links between the business objectives for a project and its final implementation in software.  Specifically:

  • Architecture links the business objectives to the systems design
  • Business Requirements Management links the business design to the business and technical requirements
  • Quality Assurance links the business and technical requirements to the delivered software
  • Project Management links the project plan to the project business case (costs and benefits)

In PwC’s 2009 Digital IQ study, we found that these keystone skills are among the skills in need of the most improvement in IT organizations.

When looking for opportunities, especially in our current economic environment, I would recommend complementing any process improvement efforts with a hard look at building your keystone skills - project management, architecture, business requirements management, and quality assurance.

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