The Book of Corporate Aphorisms says When Paradigm Change happens everyone starts from Zero!
But how apt is this for our industry of today?
Gone are the days of Transformation Projects lasting 2-3 years. The Waterfall Model has flown down all the way to the bottom and Agile and other newer models have taken over. Business wants to see IT projects showing benefits in 2 quarters, not 2 years.
Gone too, are the days of bespoke / custom development of Enterprise applications. These are the days of buying Enterprise software and configuring them and integrating them. Change your internal process to match the ERP package and not change the ERP package!
Gone are the days, when the customer will tell you what they want and ask you to develop & test. Customer expectations from our Industry have skyrocketed due to our sheer size and our involvement in many key IT systems. These days, Customers are asking us to tell them what is required and asking us to architect the solution, procure Hardware /Software (sometimes even in our financial books), integrate the solution, train the user community, deploy across the world and also operate the solution 24x7 with stiff SLAs and penalties – and all of this in few quarters, not years, and that too at much lower costs!
Gone are the days of IT Costs and budget discussions. These days, customers discuss ‘Total Cost of Service’: What does it take me to run my Customer care center? IT infrastructure costs in the Data Center or Cloud, IT Systems Integration budget, Customer Care Center budgets, and so on. Traditionally, in our industry, these are done by the IT, IMS and BPO groups who seldom talk to each other!
The generation of post-world War II people is referred to as "Baby Boomers". Likewise, we have a large population of "Y2K Boomers". Our industry went into a massive expansion of Y2K coders between 1996 and 2000. Perhaps we were short sighted, maybe we were just swamped with so much volume of business, but we just did what was possible at that time: we hired large number of people, went into colleges where the industry wasn’t usually going at that time, shortened the training programs to make them just about ready for the task at hand- which was fixing the problem of two digit variable for the year and make it in to a 4 digit variable! Unfortunately, we got just the lower end of the manual fixing work whereas Israel/US based companies developed Y2K automated tools.
So, what is the problem with this? The current middle level leadership (15 years’ experience or thereabouts ) originates from that huge ramp up which happened circa 1997; Post Y2K , while some companies took care to re-train and re-calibrate them, most companies have left them to learn on their own, and have put them on non-challenging assignments. We therefore now lack the leadership vision and deep expertise at this level, which are so crucial for managing customers with the kind of expectations stated above: there is only so much a CEO or few SVPs can do to change the organization for the future! This middle level management cadre needs to embrace the corporate vision, and have the skills actually to execute it at ground level- and this is what is lacking now.
Gone are the days of Job Security in the IT industry. Perform or Exit is slowly becoming the norm. I feel we talk more about this topic and do very little about it. We have seem to have created various parking slots for low performers, and we move them from the business units to demonstrate the performance culture; but most of these low performers are moved and hidden in these various parking lots!
So, what are skills required in our New Normal IT Industry?
1. Deep Domain Expertise
A large percentage of an IT company's staff needs to have deep domain knowledge. 100% of senior leaders - in Program Management, Project Management, architects and designers; may be slightly lower level of depth for PDs/PMs but all of them have to swim in the deep end of the domain swimming pool and not in the Toddlers section of the pool as they seem to be doing now!
2. Deep COTS product skills
Again- leaders have to be in the deep end of the pool. Deep knowledge of functionality, deep knowledge of configuration, deep knowledge of Industry specific variations, deep knowledge of newer add-ons in mobility, Cloud & Analytics- and of course, EAI skills to integrate with other business applications!
3. Program Management
This is ‘real’ program management, and not the widely-misused PMO of the Indian IT industry, where low performers are put in to do routine clerical tasks. This involves deep knowledge of the nuances of the multiyear contract and its SLA/KPI and other obligations, excellent customer management skills, and excellent commercial management. The key skills here will be to manage a complex multi-disciplined project which involves many groups within your own company, some external sub-contractors and external partners, and in some cases, customer teams. This requires massive re-skilling efforts by the industry. The major issue will be to select people from your leadership pipeline, who qualify to get in to this training programmer- as I suspect 75-80% will not even qualify into the training entry criteria!
4. Project Management
The PMs need to fully be conversant with Agile and new development models ; Shift left, Fail Fast and other early Testing models , Use of automation at all levels of SDLC, Use of re-usable internal and open source artifacts and not do custom development. PMs need to roll up the sleeves and double up as designers and developers. Again, this requires massive retraining efforts with stringent entry criteria. PMs need to shed the wrong notion that as they have become PMs it is beyond their dignity to design or look at code.
5. Sharp Development skills
All developers must be highly skilled in Object Oriented concepts. Re-use should become part of the developers’ DNA. Skills in effective re-use of components available in company IP repository and open source as approved by the company/client; Code quality / Code industrialization from start and not as an afterthought. With up to 10 -12 years’ industry experience , over 90% MUST still code as part of their job responsibility. The ‘Developer’ title needs to be uplifted, to make it acceptable for seniors to call themselves Developers and Senior Developers, and not look for Manager titles. This needs to be driven by the HR group of all companies. On a lighter note, we may need to change the Indian culture: will an IT person with a ‘developer’ title after 8 years of experience get a decent marriage proposal vis-a-vis a person with same experience but with a ‘Manager’ Title?
6. Sharp Testing Community
Testing should become the new normal Smart community. Best performers should be moved in to testing- as against the current model of moving low performers getting parking slots in testing. Deep domain knowledge even surpassing developers / designers is needed, to ensure we test for all the functionalities. Test Automation and Tools knowledge is a must skill. I expect huge scripting knowledge surpassing even the developers’ is needed for the testing group.
None of these are possible without huge commitment and buy-in from the senior management, massively supported by the Human Resources and Training Groups in our companies. Massive upgrading of people management and performance based management skills are also needed at all levels. That’s another discussion!