A New Approach to IT Training in the Era of Digital Transformation

IT training has been around since the advent of technology, and it’s likely one of the most voluminous content areas on the internet. If you search Google for “IT training,” you will find over 2.2 billion (yes, billion) results, which is natural; as technology evolves, new training programs, modules and lessons are needed.

Given that technology changes daily, so does the role of IT, its practitioners and people who are outside of the traditional realm of IT. It does not matter if your business is in mining, manufacturing, apparel, retail, food and beverage, or higher education; you are in the technology business. If you don’t see it that way, think again.

Most organizations, though, have awakened to the fact that regardless of their traditional industry classification, they must master technology to make sure that they not only survive, but thrive – hence the frequent references to digital transformation. While these references are ubiquitous, it is safe to say that not everyone is aligned on what digital transformation means. In fact, recent Salesforce research revealed “that while 64% of people are aware that the company they work for considers digital transformation a priority, 69% say they wouldn’t be confident explaining the concept to somebody else.”

Despite the lack of clarity that many may harbor about digital transformation, one thing is clear: Handling digital transformation effectively is not a luxury but rather a necessity to organizational survival, regardless of the size of the organization. As Vanguard’s CIO John T. Marcante points out, when you look at the S&P 500, “U.S. corporations remained on that index for an average of 61 years, according to the American Enterprise Foundation. By 2011, it was 18 years. Today, companies are being replaced on the S&P approximately every two weeks. Technology has driven this shift, and companies that want to succeed must understand how to merge technology with strategy.”

It is at this juncture – merging technology with strategy – that we must think of IT training, and we must address it from an entirely different perspective than it was done previously. Traditionally, IT was in the back of the house. With digital transformation calling for a merger of technology with strategy, it’s imperative that IT become center stage. There are attendant changes to approaches and worldviews that must take place to ensure that this shift actually happens in an effective manner. IT touches every aspect of the business now, from accounting processes, to fulfillment, to the storage of customer data.

In this era of digital transformation, IT professionals are increasingly asked to do things that are outside their core competencies. They are constantly being pushed outside of their comfort zones. IT professionals’ knowledge and expertise are critical to the success of digital transformation initiatives, “and a key component of that is IT professionals’ ability to impart their knowledge, and do it in such a way that other business leaders can effectively integrate it into strategy,” says Kyle Gingrich, senior director of products at MGS. She shares, “It’s at this juncture that you see the IT experts’ role changing, and this is why organizations need more versatile IT professionals. The other component of this – when you look at versatility – is that IT professionals must be able to communicate with the rest of the organization so that they can be understood.”

Listening is a critical component of these communication skills. IT professionals need to communicate effectively with their internal customers, which includes hearing what the customer is really asking for. There are, therefore, a variety of soft skills that are crucial to IT professionals’ success and growth in modern organizations, such as listening and negotiation.

In enterprise environments, people often mistakenly assume that only contracts and procurement work is subject to negotiation. In effect, however, everything that IT professionals undertake is subject to negotiation – think project scoping, think needs analysis, think phased rollouts. Negotiation skills are particularly important in our agile world, where everyone is focused on resources and outcomes, and effective negotiation is key to determining what is prioritized and what ends up on the back burner.

It is not just IT professionals who should be aware of the new skills they need. When the C-suite understands the necessary skill sets for IT professionals, they will proactively include them in the strategic scoping of transformational projects and initiatives. This inclusion, then, will lead to better outcomes. In fact, having the right people in the room at the outset of a project (including IT leaders) may go a long way to changing the often-cited statistic that 70 percent of change initiatives fail.

In the era of digital transformation, we must revise our thinking about IT training as being purely technical training. Training for IT professionals must encompass a wide range of soft skills training, as well. Changing our view of the type training that IT professionals require, going beyond traditional technical training, will go a long way toward changing the outcomes of organizations’ digital transformation initiatives.

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