Creating an agile IT team in a world of change

More than ever, IT is the backbone of the modern enterprise, and the ‘to do’ list of an IT department never ends.

Balancing day-to-day operations with larger projects to deliver new functionality, mitigate risk or just keep up with software and hardware demands is putting IT under increased strain.

Couple this with the fact that the impact of the 2008 financial crisis is yet to be reversed and IT budgets are decreasing year on year, and it’s easy to see why IT is stretched.

Over the last five-to-six years, many IT workforces, particularly in the public sector, were trimmed to the bare minimum and investment in IT infrastructure was halted – meaning infrastructure now urgently needs to be refreshed and there simply aren’t enough available resources internally.

>See also: How to use metrics to optimise the value of agile development

In the same timeframe, technology hasn’t stood still, but has transformed and innovated at a rate of knots.

As a result, the skills that made an IT professional six years ago have changed enormously. IT trends like mobility, cloud and big data are creating a need for whole sets of new skills that continuously fluctuate.

Enterprises now demand an always-on, mobile, customer-centric business and it’s up to IT to meet these demands.

Having the right mix of skilled staff that can satisfy this need is a significant challenge. In a world of constant change, IT departments need to become far more agile to keep pace.

Size matters

As staffing and skills needs change so frequently in the modern business environment, maintaining constant staff levels ‘just in case’ is clearly expensive and inefficient when the needs of the business can fluctuate greatly. 

Depending on the workload of the IT department and what projects are underway, the amount and type of people needed could be very different from week to week. 

A big IT workforce can therefore pose a risk; as there is a chance that given the constant changes in the environment, it can fall out of date when it comes to skills.

An agile IT department must be able to quickly adjust the number and type of people it has; whether for something as simple as covering maternity leave or for needing extra staff during a critical time in a project. 

However, finding quality people at short notice brings with it a recruitment and management headache. 

Organisations must plan for these changes and gain access to a flexible supply of resources they can access when needed. 

In many ways, it’s applying cloud principles to people. This ‘on-demand’ model is termed flexible resourcing, allowing businesses to dip in and out of the talent pool of a trusted external provider who takes care of the HR and management headaches and simply provides people-as-a-service.

Skills on demand

Having the right number of staff is just one part of being an agile IT team. The second factor is ensuring the right balance of skills is at hand when called upon. 

Whether for a Java development expert or a Hadoop specialist, the sudden requirement for a particular skill can catch IT teams off-guard. 

When particular skills are in demand, able workers are quickly snapped up, leaving businesses unable to fill vacancies or using in-house staff that lack experience. 

As technology continues to innovate at pace, this shortage of IT skills will only worsen.

It’s impossible for a business to keep pace with the cycle of change, meaning they are caught in a vicious circle. 

They can’t train staff quickly enough to keep up with new technologies, yet even if they could, training staff in every new technology that emerges isn’t a viable long-term solution, as those skills will also date quickly. 

Here, flexible resourcing can provide an answer to fluctuating skills needs; helping businesses augment their core of permanent employees through temporary staff with specific skills, but without a HR headache. 

This flexible approach helps IT departments to become more agile and adaptable, and able to satisfy the shifting needs of the business in both the short and long-term.

Project success

Projects are a significant part of an IT department’s work. Outside of day-to-day operations, it is the extra IT projects that arise because of new demands from the business that put the department under extra pressure. 

Often, core IT staff are unable to work on the projects they want to be involved in because day-to-day work monopolises their time. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum, core IT staff may be willing, but lack the skills and experience. 

Not having the right staff for the job puts IT projects at risk of not being on time, on budget or successful.

Often, businesses tender out IT projects to package risk and effort, and have a third party own the outcome, but this inevitably leads to higher costs. 

Similarly, bringing in external contractors from traditional recruitment agencies means the internal IT organisation owns the overall risk. 

Using contract staff can be a risk as they often have no real interest in finishing a project on time, so knowledge transfer and management of work quality again lies with the IT organisation. 

>See also: The story of Travis Perkins’s agile IT transformation

There is a middle way: identifying an IT company that can help manage risk and quality of resources, and provide them in a flexible way that boosts internal capability. 

The partner can either deliver specialised, proven staff with specific skills – or staff that can take over the running of day-to-day IT, allowing the core IT team to execute the project.

Not having access to the right skills at the right time is stopping IT departments from delivering a workforce that satisfies the growing demands of business. 

Through implementing an intelligent flexible resourcing system that alleviates pressure on the IT department, the IT team can become a far more agile business resource, delivering value to the business via a skilled department that flexes in line with business needs.


Sourced from Graham Curran, CTO, Trustmarque

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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