All kinds of businesses in New Zealand are feeling the difficulty of getting good staff, from the painting firm I engaged to paint my house last year to the orchardists in Tasman District where I spent a relaxing Matariki weekend.
In the IT industry, however, the shortage of skilled staff has been such a long-term problem that I first migrated to this country under the essential skills category more years ago than I care to remember.
It’s bad enough in primary production or construction, but the problem in digital is that there is something else required more than just the ability to say, write code.
To really make a difference, you need to have an equal understanding of digital technology and how the business world operates. What both of these skills share is that it’s hard to learn them well in theory, it’s much better to learn by doing.
People who have both dimensions of that skill are as rare as orange plumes on St. Patrick’s Day.
Smart people are working on this problem, but here are some of the things astute businesses can do in the meantime (apart from calling us, which of course is the best option):
1. Increase digital literacy
There are plenty of options to learn more about digital capability through programmes like Digital Boost and a myriad of low-cost online courses. However, the best way to learn is to just do it. Digital techniques are often best understood by diving in with a minimum of planning and analysing. There are tons of offerings that can be tried out at very low or no cost and each one of these you look at will give you ideas and help to move your thinking forward.
Of course, this also takes time so you will quickly get to the point where you will be looking for some professional help. One easy step is to read – educate yourself as much as possible through free sources like following digital leaders on LinkedIn or with newsletters like our Digital Digest (go subscribe!)
2. Get streetwise
When you do go looking for help, you will encounter an array of extremely capable salespeople who are highly experienced at locating and pushing your hot buttons. They should be treated with the same level of scepticism you might apply to claims made on a TradeMe or eBay listing.
At times, the things some people say almost amount to scams, exploiting the likely lack of knowledge of their targets. I’ve often heard people confidently articulate opinions that are highly subjective and debatable as if they were incontrovertible facts. It can be very difficult for a non-technical purchaser to sift the truth from all the claims.
Beware of smooth sales pitches or making yourself vulnerable to opinions that aren’t backed up by rigorous evidence. At the very least, get a second opinion and try to keep abreast of the main trends in digital.
3. Question yourself
We often lose sight of how quickly new technologies can completely change everything. It’s only about 15 years since the first smartphones came on the market, and 15 years before that, many companies were mostly using expensive and specialised mainframe or mini-computer systems to run their businesses.
If you’re a business leader with 20-30 years of experience, you might find that some of your convictions about how digital operates are, shall we say... a bit questionable (old-fashioned being such an unkind term).
Question what you’ve been doing for years and there may be hidden benefits lying in plain sight.
4. Get clear on your direction
I find a lot of businesses treat acquiring new technology like buying a new car. They have a list of features they want, and they look for the best price-performance for those features. That might be an ok approach for selecting individual components like laptops or smartphones but when you’re looking at digital and data strategy for even a moderately complex business, a more sophisticated approach is warranted.
This process is more like buying a fleet of vehicles, complete with servicing arrangements and fuel systems... and maybe even the roads they’re going to run on. Thinking about it in those terms automatically shifts into a different and more useful procurement mentality.
Treat your spending on technology like any other investment - be clear and realistic about what you are trying to achieve.
5. Get professional help
No, not counselling – it’s not that bad yet!
If you have endless energy and lots of enthusiasm, you can probably do a lot of the above without any help. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and like all things, enlisting someone with years of experience will almost certainly lead to a better result.
Here’s our final plug (you knew it was coming!): just get someone who knows what they’re doing, like CIO Studio, to help. For example, with our risk-free strategic assessment package, we will take a look at everything and give you a basic roadmap to get you started. If you really want to do it yourself, consider enlisting a digital mentor to get you there faster - everyone needs a sounding board.
Ray Delany is Founder of CIO Studio and is passionate about helping businesses achieve their digital dreams, whether it’s a whole strategy or a little push that’s needed. Reach out to have a virtual coffee with Ray anytime.
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