The CIO’s Role in Navigating the Future of Work

People-centered CIOs are well-positioned to lead enterprise-wide workforce transformations arising from the fourth industrial revolution.

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Learning has always been a focus in my life — not only for myself, but also for my children, co-workers, and friends. This focus emerged again last week as my attention was turned to the World Economic Forum’s report on the second phase of their Preparing for the Future of Work project.

The most recent update entitled Towards a Reskilling Revolution: Industry-Led Action for the Future of Work is an excellent multi-industry perspective on the future of work and a highly recommended read for any senior leader. The report outlines the major shifts in employment for five industries and provides a data-driven framework for analyzing the ROI of paths that migrate workers from at-risk roles to in-demand roles. One obvious conclusion from this report is that the trends of digital technology adoption which are driving massive workforce reengineering are here to stay, and accelerating.

So how do we, as technology leaders, advocate for the advancement of our workforce with such massive changes afoot? I believe that CIOs are already well-positioned to lead future workforce reskilling and upskilling at an enterprise level and can use their previous experiences to add broader value to their organizations.

Technology has always been changing rapidly. This is nothing new. A CIO’s role in talent acquisition is a Sisyphean task, always at the forefront as they work to ensure workforce skills stay current while technology marches forward.

Now, the pace at such new technologies are disrupting non-technical roles is expanding the challenge outside of the narrow scope of the typical technology domain. Advances in automation of complex business processes, new revenue models powered by data insights, and decision systems that are now able to automate complex tasks are just a few examples of technologies that are directly impacting roles held by non-IT departments globally.

CIOs with their past experience are well positioned to help. From the era of mainframe computing, to desktop PCs, three tier architectures, and now cloud computing and micro services — technology leaders have been dealing with acquiring new skills in their organizations for decades.

Successful IT leaders have one of the biggest reservoirs of insight on how to reskill and upskill a workforce. Moreover, veteran technology leaders that are still around have a wealth of experience on what applied techniques have worked over prior technology shifts.

What is perhaps even more disruptive than technology turn-over driving necessity of new IT skills within a technology organization are the forces of broad digitalization that are now driving irrelevance in core business roles. Role transitions that have a positive net ROI for both businesses and societies at large now involve learning of technology and tools that have long been viewed as core IT skills.

In fact, the top five technologies driving disruption in each of the 5 industries represented in the WEF report are all supported by new, emerging job roles that require skills traditionally found in technology organizations. The job requirements of a Financial Analyst or Marketing Manager are quickly evolving to include skills typically held by software developers or database analysts.

The key opportunity for CIOs is to support, if not outright lead, the building of enterprise structures to form a broader base of digital knowledge within their organizations. This could come in the form of assisting boards and peers in the understanding of digital skillsets and how they can be applied to non-technology roles, by developing and leading technical curricula for leadership development programs, or by leading the identification of digital talent more broadly as in the case of Amgen’s approach with their Technology Talent Forum.

According to 73% of Financial Services companies participating in the WEF report, skill gaps and local labor market conditions are reported as the largest barrier to new technology adoption. Put simply, the pace of demand for new technology skills throughout the enterprise is vastly outstripping the capacity of local markets.

In addition, the report makes a very convincing, data-driven argument that there are many paths to new roles that have economic benefit — both from private and societal perspectives. However, the transition paths that provide a positive net benefit to business and society will not necessarily emerge organically if not nurtured and thoughtfully supported. Therefore, it will take both focused effort and attention to the latent potential of the existing workforce to overcome this obstacle and this cannot be done without a people-centered focus.

It is an approach driven by leaders who understand technology that can lead to the best outcomes for reskilling of current staff. Combined with a broad strategy that connects the workforce’s “why” to daily work and the fulfillment of human desires, technology leaders are well-positioned to make this argument and drive it home, due in-part to the nature of their domain.

Let me provide a example:

The foundational core belief for an IT strategy I had recently developed for a Fortune 100 financial services subsidiary had nothing to do with technology at all.

Rather, it simply connected our collective “why” in a way that illuminated the opportunity for each employee and brought the “art of what’s possible” into our daily discussions.

As IT professionals at the center of a transformation increasingly driven from technological enhancements, we have a unique opportunity to contribute to our organization’s vision from multiple perspectives.

We fundamentally believe that our people deserve to have their efforts directed towards meaningful and challenging work that will both grow our business and grow careers through continuous learning and self-improvement.

Thats it.

Not only do these simple core values drive meaningful conversations around the opportunities for value creation utilizing technology, but they also bring the reskilling conversation front and center in everyday discussions on what are we working on and why.

All leaders have a moral obligation to guide their teams through the whitewaters of disruption, CIOs are no different. Now that those waters are overtaking business roles, it is time for CIOs to roll-up their sleeves again and share what has been learned with our peers, or to rally the effort themselves.

As boards of directors and executives now face the Fourth Industrial Revolution along with the tidal forces of industry-wide disruption, people-centered CIOs have a golden opportunity to leverage the reskilling and upskilling knowledge and approaches typically deployed within their organizations to the broader benefit of the organization at large — and consequently, to the benefit of the people within their organizations.

So what do you think? Are CIOs better positioned to lead this revolution? Is a people-centered strategy necessarily the most effective? I’d love to hear your comments or perspectives.



About the Author: Christopher Scheidel is a Fortune 100 Global Technology Executive. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employer.

Chief Information Officer | Executive | Technologist | Dad | Navigating financial disruption through applied technology

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