Do you have a modern IT workforce? Here’s how to do a pulse check

One of the great things about my job is getting to know many companies, see the front line of innovation and observe the various approaches to IT leadership. Recently, I was struck by the contrast of two different organisations.

Ironically, they are in the same city, and in a similar industry, but they’re very different. One of the firms is losing IT talent to the other because the latter has embraced modern software development approaches for its digital business strategy.

Today, adopting modern methods like DevOps and automation not only is the only true way to achieve the rapid software delivery cycles the app-driven economy demands, but it’s also a recruiting advantage.

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Amazingly, however, there are still organizations out there with traditional – and now obsolete – software development paradigms.

In what could be a scene from the next “Jurassic Park” sequel, “Jurassic IT,” one person writes an installer, another the database back end, another the layer between the database and the front end, and then a build manager swoops in once a week or month and compiles it all into a release.

In the new IT workforce, roles like database administrators (DBA) are changing rapidly. For many years, these were dedicated, platform-specific roles. They played a key role in the organization and still do. However, like many other roles, the role of the DBA is being modernized. No longer is it a job strictly dedicated to configuring, securing and tuning databases, assuring strong performance and protecting the data.

As automation increasingly handles mundane tasks, these individuals are evolving to be more strategic team members who better embody the culture and practices of CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous delivery). They’re organised around higher-level priorities such as integrating digital tools, capturing the value of APIs and deepening customer relationships through software. In short, they’re now critically involved in ensuring application innovation is delivered to market as quickly as possible.

As a McKinsey report put it: “Modernising IT is one particularly critical and oftentimes misunderstood part of digital transformation because it enables enterprises to accelerate innovation and performance improvement. Other essential transformation tasks include building a digital culture and developing capabilities that allow for deeper integration with both internal and external systems.”

So how can tech executives tell if they have a leading edge IT shop? Here are four defining characteristics CIOs and other leaders can keep in mind as they do an organisational and cultural pulse check.

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1. Cross-functional teams are the rule, not the exception

Siloes have no place in an organization striving to increase agility and velocity in their application delivery. Instead, modern enterprises need cross-functional teams of experts spanning the entire software delivery lifecycle – developers, testers and DBAs.

The DevOps mindset of tighter collaboration and integration between development and operations teams arose to address this reality. And it works. According to a study by DevOps Research Assessment and Datical, companies that adopted the DevOps methodology at an elite level boast 46 times more frequent code deployment and a 2,555 times faster lead time from code commit to code deployment.

Yet mysteriously, only 23% of companies have fully embraced DevOps so far, according to Statista. Another 40% report limited adoption, and the remaining 37% have yet to get started.

This means many CIOs out there need to look around. If they lack cross-functional teams, they don’t have an up-to-date IT workforce.

2. A fluid, fresh workforce

In a state-of-the-art IT organisation, people don’t stay in the same role as long as they once did. Rather move around the company, tackling new challenges of offering fresh thinking to key challenges.

On quick pulse check, CIOs should consider how many people have changed roles within the firm in the last 12 months. If the percentage is in the single digits, they may have stagnant thinking and bored employees – an anathema in today’s hyper-intense digital environment.

Constantly rotating, fresh teams are a hallmark of contemporary IT.

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3. A focus on innovation

A vibrant IT shop rewards innovation, challenges the status quo and brings employees together – at all levels – to come up with solutions to important problems, change processes to improve efficiency, whatever the case may be in improving the organisation.

Is this philosophy embedded in your culture? Do you hold hackathons to collaboratively develop new things? If so, you have a key sign of a modern IT workforce.

4. A laser focus on service delivery

In the old model, the IT staff was organised by specialised function.

In the new model, automation and more collaborative methods have freed people to be higher level experts in areas like data science, artificial intelligence and digital transformation – all serving a common goal of delivering high-quality software to customers as quickly as possible.

This is so much more exciting for companies and IT workers alike, and one of the badges of a with-it IT organisation.

By examining these four factors, CIOs can tell whether their organisations look digital dynamos or dinosaurs.

Written by Derek Hutson, CEO of Datical, an Austin, TX-based database automation software company
Written by Derek Hutson, CEO of Datical, an Austin, TX-based database automation software company

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