Creating the next generation of tech leaders

Businesses are running short on senior tech talent: how do they find or create the next generation of tech chiefs, and what do they look like?
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor on
The tech industry is looking for ways to find and motivate the next generation of leaders.
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The IT industry has a problem. There is a sector-wide lack of top talent and companies are struggling to find great candidates for vacant positions.

With companies finding it so hard to source the skilled IT professionals they require, how can businesses face the continuing digital transformation with confidence? More to the point, who will lead these organisations into this uncertain future? Industry experts give their opinions on how to create the next generation of IT leaders.

Understand how the role of CIO is changing

Ashurst LLP IT director Bruna Pellicci says that from now onwards, every new generation that enters the workplace will have grown up using technology. She says the expectations of this 'always-on' cohort of individuals will bring both benefits and challenges to wider organisations.

"Businesses aren't changing as quickly as the technology," says Pellicci. "You need investment and some organisations simply can't afford a big hit. The emerging generation will automatically be more open to engaging with technology, but they also won't understand when the technology they want to use isn't available as an option in their workplace."

Pellicci expects some of the issues around the availability of new technologies to be sorted as IT leaders iron out inconsistencies about digital standards and policies. But success here will also bring new concerns, particularly in regards to the long-term relevance of the CIO role.

"How much technology do you really need in-house?" Pellicci asks. "With that realisation, does the role of IT change? Rather than a traditional IT leader, does the CIO of the future - in whatever guise that executive takes - become more like a managed services specialist?"

Help build the next generation of digital leaders

Omid Shiraji, CIO at Working Links, recognises the scale of change affecting the role of technology chief. He is a passionate advocate for a new type of IT leadership where the technology department is an integral part of the business, just like the HR, finance, or sales organisations.

His passion extends to internal training and Shiraji runs one-to-one meetings with the up-and-coming stars in his team. "By and large, these people are young, tech-savvy, and entrepreneurial," he says. "I talk about the role of the CIO and broader organisational priorities. I invest a lot of effort into creating a different view of enterprise IT."

Shiraji is also keen to extend his efforts across the industry. He bemoans the lack of young talent emerging at the IT executive level, and the paucity of guidance around business matters and outcomes. Shiraji is eager to create some sort of cross-industry consensus to help generate technology-focused business executives.

"I'm interested in how we can create a network of like-minded mentors who work together to help educate next-generation IT leaders about the challenges of the technology industry," he says. "It's all about building awareness and creating the kind of digital executives that will lead businesses in the future."

Look to make the most of entrepreneurial startup talent

Chris Chandler, head of the CIO practice at recruitment specialist La Fosse Associates, says innovation is key and that new IT leaders must look outside the confines of the traditional IT department for inspiration. "Successful startups will provide a breeding ground for the skills required by new technology leaders," he says.

Chandler says the innovative entrepreneurs at these leading-edge firms should act as the mentors to would-be CIOs. "When it comes to the next generation of IT leadership, we need talented IT professionals to talk with people who have been successful, entrepreneurial, and who have overcome the barriers to adopting new technology," he says.

Those mentors might be chief executives of a startup or vice presidents of a related technical area within the nascent business, like engineering. As important as such mentorship schemes might be, Chandler recognises that current examples of link-ups between traditional firms and startups are few and far between.

"There's a bit of a battleground between the old corporate world and the new digital firms," he says, suggesting that the fears of a territory grab are less defined between startup organisations. "They're supportive of each other; they share ideas and people. There's a lot to be learnt from that approach."

Take a new approach to the sourcing of talent

Like Chandler, Andrew Marks, the former CIO of Tullow Oil, is keen for IT organisations to absorb some of the benefits of a startup approach, whether or not they can invest directly. He says one common strategy is to create a seed pot, where money is set aside for the technology team to "think differently" and to consider the potential tangible impact of innovation on the business. He would, however, like to see CIOs go a step further.

"It would be great to be able to give a few seats in the building to one or two start-ups. Let them enjoy the facilities of a modern, big organisation. Come and enjoy the free coffee and the wi-fi, and we'll get on with our work as normal while they get on and do theirs," he says.

"As a CIO, all I'd ask is that, once a month, they share some of what they are working on and, most importantly, feed back some of the things they've learnt from being in a big business. I'd like them to talk about what they've experienced by hanging out around the water cooler.

"The startup mind-set is different and they are bound to spot ways to improve how we work. As CIO, you could then use these observations to improve the organisation without commitment to the startup's products."

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