Rise of the Right-Brained Technology Worker
IT has always evolved, but what has happened in recent years is different. Mobility, cloud computing, social media and other 'consumerization' technologies have combined to change the very nature of IT in the enterprise.
These technologies are shifting the IT center of gravity away from the IT department itself and into the business as a whole. Gone are the days when the IT department ruled with an iron fist, determining which employees had access to the network and enterprise data, which apps would be supported, and which devices were allowed to connect to the network.
Now, the control of IT has become decentralized, with business units and even technology-savvy employees 'going it alone,' either buying or building their own IT tools — often without the approval or even the knowledge of the enterprise's IT department. This new reality requires new ways of thinking, and IT professionals and the enterprises that rely on them must reassess the skills they need to navigate this new world.
A business/IT co-evolution
That's not to say that enterprises aren't gaining valuable IT skills; they are. It's just that many of the employees with these skills work in business units, rather than in IT. In an August 2013 report for CSC's Leading Edge Forum (LEF), authors Kirtland Mead and David Moschella call this 'business/IT co-evolution.' "Technology is now central to marketing, to the functionality of the product, to business operations and process management, and to collaboration ...," they write. "Employees are becoming so adept with do-it-yourself technologies that they are able to acquire or even build their own systems."
For old-school IT professionals, that's a terrifying prospect. But one big upside of business/IT co-evolution is that IT costs are absorbed by other departments in the enterprise, easing some pressure on tight IT department budgets. Still, no matter which parts of the business serve as home to IT talent, both enterprises and IT professionals must adapt their skill sets to flourish
in the emerging world of mobile/social/cloud/collaboration.
Again, this is happening organically, despite resistance from some enterprises (and IT pros) still clinging to a traditional IT mindset. And that's because the enterprise workers with the do-it-yourself skills tend to be younger and are slowly replacing more senior IT professionals who place more value on control and order.
In their right minds
These younger workers, the CSC LEF report authors write, also tend to be 'right brained' — that is, they deal with technology on an intuitive level and value creativity and out-of-the-box thinking far more than adhering to best practices and formal development and control processes.
In an interview, co-author Kirtland Mead elaborates: "Traditional IT persons have a strong left brain and are analytically very skilled. They understand how to take problems apart; they understand how to lay things out in steps; they understand how to decompose complex situations," Mead says. "The new IT is more right brained. It's about trying something and seeing if it works." This change is about much more than the mere evolution of technology skills, according to Mead.
"There's a whole new culture there that is very different from traditional IT," he says. "A lot of the new IT is being driven by people who are a generation or two younger than the traditional IT people, and they've grown up with consumer technology, the stuff on iPhones and PCs. They want to do IT like that. And now those consumer-oriented systems are taking over the company." Their familiarity with consumer technology makes younger IT workers — those within IT itself, as well as those within enterprise business units — more willing to just try things, as opposed to learning formally and following specific steps, Mead says.
"The new generation uses that stuff with the same fluidity that we used to use telephones," he says. "They know how to do it without exactly being able to explain how to do it. It's all experiential; that's the central idea. Experiential is now much more important; analytical is much less important. That goes even for big data analysis. Insightful data analysis is now much
more intuitive. Unstructured data is something that terrifies a left brainer."
Beyond wanting to use their own devices and apps, the emerging right-brained enterprise workers embrace a social approach to work — the exact opposite of the stereotypical lone wolf IT workers who wall themselves off in the server room. These new enterprise workers, Mead and Moschella write in the report, "believe strongly in collaboration, preferring to work in teams with a diverse set of people who bring other skills to the party."
Finding and keeping the right (and right-brained) talent
The retirement of the baby boom generation from the IT workforce provides a great opportunity for enterprises to revitalize their IT skill set. And the emergence of a new generation of workers with right-brained skills — intuition, creativity, collaboration — means there is a growing pool of potential employees with the needed skills for the technological opportunities and economic challenges that face modern enterprises.
But that doesn't necessarily mean such people are easy to find or retain. "They are not yet coming out of the typical technical education [programs], nor are they flowing through the mainstream recruitment firms," the authors write. "HR is finding that it often struggles to be of much help."
To locate the desired candidates, some enterprises are recruiting from places you might not traditionally expect to find technology talent, such as business schools, liberal arts programs and through contacts from current employees. Scot Melland, CEO of technology job site Dice.com, says, "You have to go where the talent is, where they hang out. Use Dice. Try some of our competitors. The key is to engage with the tech community locally where your business is based." Specifically, he suggests, "Have an open house at your company for local technologists. Do a project with the local community college. Engage with them online."
The emergence of mobile, cloud and social technologies has done more than change how IT needs to operate. These new tools have both enabled and necessitated the rise of a new breed of technology professionals with vastly different skills, priorities and working habits from those of previous generations.
It's time to throw away the old playbook. Enterprises must recognize this new reality and adapt hiring strategies in a way that helps them identify and recruit the IT talent needed to leverage modern technology and human assets.
CHRIS NERNEY is a writer for CSC's digital marketing team.