IT success was once a fairly predictable equation. Recruit a solid CIO and then turn them loose to do their thing. Back in the day, the technology playground was largely confined to managing and supporting enterprise-level systems with all the familiar acronyms—ERP, HCM, CRM. Those were good times—simple. Predictable. Contained. Technical issues rarely migrated out of the IT group. But then something happened. As we all know, the only constant in life is change. In a previous article, we examined the Changing Role of the CIO in today’s organizations. Once upon a time, tech decisions were the exclusive domain of the Chief Information Officer, but as we noted, that has changed. To sum it up, today’s boardrooms are far more tech savvy. The role of the CIO is therefore different—today they are less focused on managing those enterprise-level projects and more focused on being a catalyst for change and a champion for technology within the boardroom and across the organization. The focus of the role has shifted from technical manager to technology evangelist.

Culture Shift and the Trickle Down Effect

This shift may seem subtle. But it’s seismic. And important. Because that tech-evangelism and the culture it’s creating in boardrooms is trickling down and infusing itself into every layer of the org chart. Executives, managers and employees are now challenging themselves and asking “How can we leverage technology to make our business/organization/team/process more effective and efficient?” The people asking these questions aren’t always engineers. In fact, many aren’t even in roles that would be called “technical.” But they believe in technology and like others in their organization, they’re willing to put time and effort into understanding how it might make them, or their team, more effective. Adding fuel to the trend is the technology itself. Why? Because it’s more accessible. It doesn’t require infrastructure or ownership. And it’s often available on demand. Things like Cloud-based systems, mobile computing, Big Data, Natural Language Processing (NLP), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Software as a Service (Saas) don’t necessarily require IT’s participation in order to integrate that technology into a business unit, department or group. Technical service providers have made it very easy for their corporate customers to access and use these technologies on demand. So today, unlike the past, a mid-level executive doesn’t need to rely on the internal IT department to deliver technical innovation. Instead, she’s going directly to the 3rd party technical service provider and managing the implementation and integration of that technology into her own business unit, team or group. By necessity, she’s now pulling key members of her staff into the project as well. We see this trend accelerating as technology service providers continue to simplify the delivery and expand the diversity of their services.

What That Means for You

All of the above translates into the need for a higher degree of tech savvy at all levels of your organization. Recruiting candidates who embrace technology and have a desire to innovate will become an acute need for organizations looking to improve their bottom-line results. The logic is simple—in order to maximize the positive impact that emerging technologies can have on your business, you need people at all levels of the organization who can embrace that vision and help bring it to life. One of our current assignments reflects this trend. The BlueSky team is currently helping a client recruit a Futurist. This role is tasked with understanding and vetting emerging technologies to assess which ones are viable, which ones warrant the development of assets and how to leverage those assets in the marketplace. That’s an extreme example—we don’t see every company needing a futurist. But what we do see is smart companies making technical knowledge and understanding a key part of their ideal candidate profile.

Four for the Future

It’s never too early to start thinking about how your organization will need to evolve to meet future needs. Here are 4 key things you can do right now to ensure that your hiring and culture efforts encourage technical innovation:

  1. Fill any technical savvy and innovation gaps: Technology moves fast. As in, NASA moon shot fast. Think about your own organization’s technical savvy. As technology skills and sensibilities continue to grow in importance across all layers of the organization, competition for candidates who possess a high degree of technical acumen will be fierce. While not every company needs a dedicated Futurist role, every company does need team members who are tasked with at least maintaining an awareness of emerging technologies and periodically looking for opportunities to incorporate that technology in ways that move the business forward. Consider the skill and knowledge sets you have on your current team roster. How can you leverage that expertise to keep technology and innovation top of mind in your group? What gaps in that knowledge or expertise do you need to address in your future hiring efforts? Even if you aren’t in a position to hire at the moment, start thinking about it now.
  2. Look for team members that can manage the gray: Technology ownership will no longer be colored in black and white. Ownership, responsibility and accountability will mix and overlap with new gray areas that require a high degree of internal communication, coordination and alignment. Candidates who have experience managing complexity, coordinating efforts across groups and who can navigate those gray areas successfully will give your team a leg up. Find them. Recruit them. And keep them.
  3. Adjust your interview questions: As technical understanding and knowledge become more important for all potential employees, it’s critical to adjust your screening and interviewing process to reflect the need to uncover those qualities in candidates. If this is not something you have previous experience with, ask someone who does. Often you’ll find that someone in a technical role or in the IT department can help you develop interview questions that allow you to assess a candidate’s technical acumen without having to be a domain expert yourself.
  4. Renovate your corporate culture: One of the best ways to create opportunities for positive change through technology is to weave that spirit of innovation into your corporate culture. Today’s smart CIO knows that great ideas can come from anywhere. Encouraging your teams to think about ways to introduce game-changing technology is one of the most effective ways to build and maintain that commitment to innovation. As a bonus, a corporate culture that is passionate about technology and innovation is a big draw for like-minded candidates who want to be a part of shaping the future of your organization.

The fact that technology can make or break your business is a no brainer. While not every company is completely focused on technology, every company—regardless of whether it’s a small, local business or a massive, global conglomerate—uses technology. Which means that every company has a vested interest in using technology in the most efficient and effective way. Ensuring that your organization is staffed by people who are technically savvy and eager to innovate will go a long way in maintaining your competitive edge.

As always, thanks for reading from all of us at BlueSky. Now let’s get out there and innovate!