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How to Close the Skills Gap AI Has Created

In this special guest feature, Stanley Zaffos, Senior Vice President of Product Marketing at Infinidat, discusses how IT and business leaders across industries all face the same challenge – how to close the skills gap that’s been created by advancements in AI and data analytics. Infinidat is a provider of enterprise storage solutions. As a former research vice president at Gartner, Stanley oversaw the firm’s Magic Quadrants for General Purpose Storage Arrays and conducted research on hybrid and solid state or flash storage arrays, software-defined-storage, HCI, replication technologies, acquisition and asset management strategies.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-augmented data analytics have captured the imagination of everyone from kindergarten to the boardroom, as they change the ways we live, shop, consume news, and govern ourselves. From an IT-centric viewpoint these technologies are changing our business models. They’re also creating fierce competition to retain the limited number of people with the skills needed to transform AI into competitive advantage. IT and business leaders across industries all face the same challenge – how to close the skills gap that’s been created by advancements in AI and data analytics.

Overcoming this challenge is essential to compete in today’s AI-enabled and disruption-obsessed tech environment. There is a wealth of technology platforms and resources available to businesses to become more data-driven and competitive. To reap technology’s full benefits, though, IT leaders need to reskill their staffs and attract top talent that are equipped with the right data skills and mindsets. Achieving this won’t happen overnight; it  will require support and investment from senior leadership. The strategy outlined below will increase the likelihood of these efforts succeeding.

Obtain Senior Management Buy-In Before Proceeding

Making major changes in an organization requires the support of senior management because projects of this magnitude will have significant business, staffing and budget implications. IT professionals should build their cases for change from a business – not a technology – vantage point. They need to focus on how their plans will create competitive advantage by reducing lost opportunity costs, improving the success rate of new development projects, and enabling new business models.

First, there needs to be a clear link between IT spending and specific revenue streams. How will each IT dollar spent impact initiatives from various departments – whether it’s IT, marketing and sales, or HR and accounting. This encourages good user behavior by linking requests to costs and encourages management to ask questions like the following:

  • How much does an application outage cost per hour?
  • What does it cost to shrink an application’s RTO from 4 hours to 2 hours?
  • What are its effects on customer relationships, stock prices, revenues, etc.?
  • And, last but certainly not least, can that money be better spent elsewhere?

Finally, IT needs to set realistic expectations with senior management regarding the difficulty of retraining and hiring staff, as well as developing and testing new capabilities. Many IT organizations that have provided infrastructure for decades often lack the skills needed to exploit data analytics to their fullest advantage. From a recruiting perspective, many still struggle with the process of creating job descriptions that align with the revised role of IT. The list of new job titles is long and often fuzzy, encompassing everything from Chief Data Officer to Cloud Engineer to IoT Architect. Investing in training and development for existing staff while also allocating resources to recruit for new roles can be a timely and costly investment. However, it’s an investment worth making when done wisely, helping to create a more competitive business model. IT needs to be ready to sell this into the C-suite or risk losing out on the data-driven economy and being outpaced by competitors.

Use Consultants

Treat the need to reskill your staff with a sense of urgency. Your competitors are, so don’t pinch pennies. Consultants can shorten your time to market with new services built on data analytics and AI/ML by helping to identify missing skills and assist in creating job descriptions and profiles of ideal candidates. This profile should include technical skills and personality traits, education, certifications, prior work experience, and other factors such a willingness to work evenings or weekends, and career expectations.

Competent consultants can also help you avoid products that do not fit your requirements by helping to assess functionality, scale, performance, ease of use, etc. In doing so, they help avoid pitfalls that their previous clients encountered as they leveraged their data and AI to a competitive advantage. They can also help you create a shortlist of possible solutions and identify technology and marketing trends that may indicate changes in your strategies.

Build Relationships with Local Colleges and Universities

Schools are redesigning their curriculums to satisfy the need for technical professionals with skills in data analytics, AI/ML, cyber-security, and helping users leverage these technologies into competitive advantage. The lofty salaries commanded by graduates with these skills means there is fierce competition for them as previously noted, so you want to be first in making them job offers. The best ways to gain access to them is by building relationships with department heads and individual professors, offering professors consulting engagements where they make good business sense, sponsoring research projects that align with your business needs, and establishing an intern program. Internships not only expose potential new hires to your company – they introduce AI-related skills to existing employees, which can help management identify those with the potential to grow into new roles.

While providing critical business insights for significant competitive advantage, data analytics and AI/ML are providing CIOs and other technical leaders with opportunities to reskill their staffs and engage with a whole new generation of data-savvy candidates. It doesn’t stop at just training and recruitment though. Leaders need to invest in the right tools and technologies that empower their workforce to harness the full potential of data and AI. Done well, these projects will transform IT’s role within an organization from being a provider of infrastructure to being a source of competitive advantage. Since mastery of these technologies is not optional, now is a great time to start to start the process.

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Comments

  1. Joseph Fatheree says:

    Much work needs to be done in regards to the skills gap for the economy to flourish and our children to thrive in the age of AI. With respect to Mr. Zaffos, schools are barely touching the surface on providing students with the requisite skills they need to find success in the future. Some work is being done at the collegiate level in terms of job training. However, the issue goes much deeper and needs to be addressed in grades PK-12. Mr. Zaffos is correct that AI will redefine how we work, play and live. Public education has a role in ensuring our students have the skills they need to thrive not survive in this new world. I hope business experts and teacher leaders join hands some time in the near future to begin work on that process.
    Joseph Fatheree
    Top 10 Finalist 2016 Global Teacher Prize
    Illinois State Teacher of the Year 2007

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