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CIO sleepless nights (Series 1) – Where has all my talent gone?

Tired man sitting in front of his laptop.

In this series I intend to assess the challenges that keep CIOs awake at night. So let’s begin with my favourite challenge and one that has been around for a few years now but is still a major issue for most CIOs.

Where has all my talent gone and how can I fill the gaps?

In the 2016 Gartner CIO Agenda Survey, 66% of CIOs said they believe that there’s a scarcity of talent and it’s approaching “crisis” proportions. They ranked talent the No. 1 barrier to achieving their objectives (The No. 3 barrier cited was culture, an issue that goes hand-in-hand with talent).

I am frequently asked by CIOs where has all the talent gone? Home grown talent was nurtured in the late 70s and 80s with many becoming CIOs, CTOs, CSOs and other senior IT leaders in the 90s and 00s.  However in the wake of the outsourcing boom in the 00s and 10s coupled with a significant downturn in graduates leaving university with math, engineering and technical degrees the talent pool in the UK has dried up.

Much of the existing talent pool has either retired or has moved into interim and consultancy roles.  This has left a void in most CIO departments which is proving difficult to fill.  Recently CIOs have tried to tackle this problem by creating apprenticeship schemes and sponsoring students through universities.  However the roles that require IT leadership, experience and very strong technical skills are proving very difficult to fill. This has resulted in CIOs hiring less competent resources who are unable to deliver the business needs at pace in a safe and secure way.

The gap between enterprises’ needs and capabilities is more acute in some functional areas than in others. With so many businesses focused on data management in recent years, for example, it’s little surprise that information/analytics expertise to help identify insights and opportunities appears highly on CIOs’ “most wanted” lists.

Business knowledge/acumen and security/risk, are increasingly becoming pain points for CIOs.

Thinking outside traditional business structures

Digital business is about casting aside traditional roadmaps and rigid organisation charts, or accepting the risk of missing out on opportunities. Leading CIOs are tapping into resources that reside in other parts of the business and outside the enterprise — including bold moves such as investing more in crowdsourcing, co-creating solutions with customers and IT partnerships. Likewise, many are approaching talent as a platform.

Talent as a Platform
  • More CIOs are turning to specialist IT firms who can provide a combination of corporate and consulting experience in areas such as Service Performance Management, Service Transition including to the cloud, and IT Operating models embracing agile and DevOps.
  • Some CIOs are breaking down barriers that might discourage high-level technical talent from seeking out their best fit and challenges in the organisation. Empowering employees to pursue their potential has helped improve communication (between both teams and individuals), productivity and innovation capabilities.
How to build your talent platform

A recent Gartner CIO Agenda Survey shows that many enterprises have not been proactive in addressing the talent challenge. Many CIOs are still not taking steps to innovate in talent management.

Digital business talent might be a burning platform but ideas to best develop and leverage what’s out there is not. One of your resolutions for 2017 could be to create a talent platform plan detailing inventory, future state and a gap analysis.

Some platform-inspired initiatives you could consider include:

  • Seeking talent from the rest of the business by establishing mutually beneficial developmental and rotational plans
  • Tapping relationships with educational institutions for more internships and junior hires, and research partnerships focused on key digital era capabilities
  • Partnering with small tech consulting companies as a way of capturing interim talent (“techquisitions”) and use them to coach and mentor your existing resource base.
  • Unlocking innovation across the business via bimodal delivery, including co-located multidisciplinary teams.


Of course doing everything at once isn’t feasible.  You need to create a talent platform prioritised action plan. This requires a number of actions and I would consider the following actions which some CIOs have already benefited from:

Action 1:  Commit as a leader to making talent a priority

Many CIOs say that talent is a priority, but take a back seat in driving this priority task. The critical thing is to first commit as a leader to making talent a priority, and then taking action to develop culture, skills and enterprise agility.  The ability to anticipate and orchestrate skills and expertise could become a way to characterise CIO success in the future. If CIOs can find talent at the time of or before companies need it, it could become a part of the leadership for the future.

Action 2: Build an inventory of your current resource talent pool and identify the gaps and new IT operating model

Creating a runway for talent is about building up the pipeline so it can handle the ambitions of the future. CIOs should be thinking about people in terms of three different timelines at the same time. First, ensure that the present workforce has the capabilities and competencies to handle the present business. Second, in the midterm, look to identify the knowledge and talent that will drive the potential of the business. Finally, long term, consider how to prepare the present workforce for a different future.  This will include assessing your current operating model and making sure it is future proofed to embrace such models as DevOps, Agile, SIAM etc.

Action 3: Build trusted partnerships with small tech firms and seek help

Recognise that you will need help in the short and probably the medium/long terms.  Enter into partnerships with small tech firms that specialise in skills and experience that you lack and you find difficult to acquire and retain resources. Such areas include:

  • Service management
  • Service transition including to the cloud
  • Security
  • Designing and implementing new IT operating models e.g. SIAM, DevOps
  • Agile expertise


Don’t fall into the trap of distress resource acquisition.  Plan for it and make IT resource partnerships a strategy in your talent platform. This will help you enter into long term resource partnership and a much better price point than simply body shopping in a distress way and then renewing at high rates before you know it.

Make sure these partnerships can provide frameworks and accelerators not just simply resources.  You will need help in designing and implementing your new operating model.  Choose the help up front with firms that have done it before.  It is unlikely you will have the skills and experience to do this in house and if you have they are probably already too busy on other activities.  Also partner with a firm that can provide coaching and transfer of skills to your existing resource base. Some will say they will do it but few actually deliver on this promise so build it into the engagement contract and seek a way to measure it.

Action 4: Bolster talent pipelines through universities

While many companies already have university programs, the current setup doesn’t allow for the amount of talent that will be necessary in the future. Consider co-sponsoring hackathons or exploring maker labs as a way to access younger talent.

Do you still have time to execute?

Fortunately, not much has changed in recent years where top IT talent is concerned. This means there are opportunities for CIOs to begin making these changes and figure out how to attract the people needed for digital business.

If you move now you can still get an advantage, because so many others have not yet moved. If you wait a couple of years it’s going to be very difficult to execute these talent action plans, because the pace is picking up dramatically.

If you would like to find out how iCore can help you with your IT service management requirements then please contact us on 0207 868 2405 or email info@icore-ltd.com