NBN barely on radar as IT managers lament strategic skills deficit

Preparing for the NBN is far and away the last priority for Australian IT managers, according to survey findings that suggest they're more concerned about finding the skills to support BYOD, mobility and cloud rollouts.

The national broadband network (NBN) may be dominating political headlines and online discussions, but the network – and building skills to utilise it – are by far the lowest priority for Australian IT managers struggling to maintain skills in higher-priority technology areas, new survey results suggest.

With an average ranking of 3.98 on a scale of 1 to 5, compute virtualisation scored as the most significant technology driver for the 118 respondents to the IT Pros Survey: Australia, conducted by C White Consulting on behalf of network performance monitoring vendor SolarWinds.

Network engineering skills, necessary to capitalise on the NBN, barely rated a blip among the most important skills over the next five years. Source: SolarWinds.

The challenge of managing smarter and more complex equipment (3.65) wasn’t far behind, with virtual networks (3.41), vendor proliferation (3.35) and videoconferencing (3.29) all ranking as important technology drivers.

The NBN, by contrast, scored just 2.36 out of 5 – suggesting that Australian IT managers still see it as far less important in their strategies as IT operational drivers like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), mobility, and cloud computing, which topped the list of the issues most significantly impacting network complexity.

Security was the most significant business driver, by a wide margin over auditing and compliance.

The survey, which was designed to evaluate strategic technology drivers as well as the resources companies have available to meet their challenges, also revealed a significant skills issue amongst those surveyed: only 11% of respondents said their higher education had sufficiently prepared them for their current IT role.

On a scale of 1 (do not agree at all) to 10 (agree completely), the average response to the statement “my higher education sufficiently prepared me for my current role” received a rating of just 4.77. Asked whether today’s higher education is adequately training the next generation of IT professionals, the average response was just 4.56.

That finding surfaces ongoing industry debate about the adequacy of university educations for meeting surging demand for IT skills, with Australia's widely-flagged IT skills shortage  putting pressure on certain parts of the sector. It is also, the survey found, contributing to a lack of IT manager confidence in their ability to manage increasingly complex IT operations.

On average, the respondents ranked the statement “my company is prepared for our growing network complexity challenges” with a score of 6.04 on a scale of 1 to 10 – suggesting a confidence gap that could translate into execution issues down the track.

Unsurprisingly, IT staff training was far and away the most recognised solution to this problem, cited by 67.8% of respondents as compared with adding network management tools (54.2%), reprioritising existing IT resources (49.2%), increasing IT budgets (45.8%) or increasing IT staff (28.8%).

Perspectives on Australia's IT skills shortage vary considerably, with Westpac CIO Clive Whincup last year arguing that a lack of domestic skills was forcing companies to look offshore while Commonwealth Bank CIO Michael Harte recently called the whole idea a myth .