Does Your IT Organization Have the “Good Skills”?

ITSM and “Good Skills”

There’s lots of talk right now about the people in IT and IT service management (ITSM). It might be perceived as more talk than action, but at least the focus is finally in the right place. With questions being asked about whether IT organizations have enough of “the right kind of people,” the right balance of skills, and – as we exit 2018 – the wellbeing of employees.

This article focuses on the state of skills, using the Digital Skills Landscape 2018 report, from SkillsTx and BSMimpact, to highlight the current state of skills availability in IT.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the above title, then you’ve probably never seen the film Napoleon Dynamite and experienced the need for good skills. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed much. Now back to that Digital Skills Landscape Report…

Explaining the Digital Skills Landscape Report

You might not have heard of this report before – it’s a periodical analysis of the capabilities, competencies, and skills of IT professionals. You can download a copy here.

It starts with the premise of: What skills do we have? What skills do we need? And leverages the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which provides a set of descriptions of digital, cyber, and ICT skills (and responsibility characteristics) that have been adopted by companies in nearly 200 countries.

The data analyzed in the 2018 report is from 4,902 individuals within a spectrum of IT organizations who have used SFIA to produce a baseline of their current skills through self-assessment, and data input by assessors who have conducted one-to-one skills discussions to gather verbal evidence to produce a validated assessment for 2,915 of these individuals following the self-assessment activity.

The Distribution of Skill Types in IT Organizations

There are six “uber” skills categories contained in SFIA, which are shown below, along with the count of self-assessed and validated skills for the assessment participants.

SFIA skills in IT organizations by category

To explain the above bar chart, and the various colors: During self-assessment, individuals are asked to state how well a SFIA description of a skill (at a level) applies to them and their experience. Selecting “fully” for a match of 85% or more, “largely” for a match of between 50% and 85%, and “previous” where the description matches a skill which is not considered current but was possessed earlier in the individual’s career (seven years ago or more). Participants were also offered an option where the match was less than 50%, and therefore was not considered a good match.

The above chart shows the self-assessed results for “previous,” “largely,” and “fully,” along with the skills that were validated at the “fully” level. There’s some interesting aspects to point to here, including that:

  • Some skill types are far more abundant than others, with strategy and architecture, development and implementation, and delivery and operation skills far exceeding the other three skill types
  • Many people think they have more involvement in strategy and architecture than they really do
  • Through independent validation, we can find relationship and engagement skills that people didn’t recognize in themselves during self-assessment.

Do People Have More or Fewer Skills Than They Think?

The second and third of the above bullets have hopefully got you thinking about the accuracy of the self-assessment of skills. Are we overly humble in our opinion of our skills or is it the reverse? The report assesses this too – with the results shown below.

SFIA Skills by Person

The above chart shows that, with the exception of Level 4 Autonomy, most people identify more skills in their self-assessment compared to when they attend a skills discussion session with a SFIA Accredited Consultant to provide a certified skills profile. And this seems to increase the higher up the levels of responsibility within the IT organization.

One possible explanation for this is that people-managers and senior leaders often confuse responsibility and accountability. There are different skills needed to ensure accountability, typically much fewer than the skills needed to execute responsibility. And because senior managers often defer responsibility to others in their teams, but continue to remain accountable, they often assume they have skills for activities they’re not actually responsible for carrying out personally. Therefore, we observe that many managers incorrectly self-select the skills of their team in addition to their own skills.

Specific Issues Arising from Identified Skills Shortages in IT Organizations

The report offers up a variety of insights into areas where IT organizations and their parent businesses will struggle due to missing skills. For example:

  • The lack of skills in Information Systems Coordination is going to inhibit the adoption of cloud technologies and multi-supplier models such as service integration and management (SIAM)
  • The lack of skills in User Experience means that we’re still likely creating solutions for IT people and the business executives, not our end customers. Without these fundamental skills, we’ll continue to disenfranchise large parts of our demographic and reinforce the digital divide
  • Our people managers focus on employee performance, not professional development, which negatively impacts staff churn and often wastes time and money on the wrong training and development activities
  • While we talk about the great skills shortage, some of the skills we lack the most are described in SFIA’s Skills Management sub-category. This includes learning assessment and evaluation (LEDA) skills, which are found in less than 1% of the survey respondents. Why do we care so little about understanding critical learning needs?
  • Our approach to information and cyber security continues to be fragmented, with a lack of enterprise ownership and coordination.

Hopefully, this article has raised a few eyebrows about skills, and you’d now like to understand more about the current state of skills in IT (and perhaps how SFIA adoption will help your IT organization).

If so, then the following links will be helpful:

Finally, if you’ve read the report and want to find out more about what it all means, then please reach out to me either in the comments below or using this contact form:

Here’s something on ITIL 4 risk management.

You might also like these articles on service availability and availability management.

Matthew Burrows
Managing Director at BSMimpact

Matthew Burrows currently serves on the SFIA Council, is Chair of the itSMF International Ethics Review Board, and contributes to the Service Management industry and the development of best practice – including as Design Authority for SFIA.

He is Director and Principal Consultant of BSMimpact, an ISO/IEC 20000 qualified consultant and auditor, and SFIA Accredited Consultant, specialising in implementing pragmatic business service management solutions rather than just theoretical consulting. He has considerable practical and operational experience of Service Management.

Matthew’s authoring credits include SFIA (Skills Framework for the Information Age), Service Management, Portfolio and Programme Management methodologies, white papers, books, articles and publications.

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