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Meeting the Challenges of a Talent-Driven Network

Capacity Constrained

"The speed at which things need to get done is tremendous."

Gartner estimates enterprise data growth in five years to be 650 percent, 80 percent of which will be unstructured.1 Moreover, its research indicates that 40 exabytes (4.0 x 1019) of unique, new information was generated worldwide in 2009 alone.2

The explosion of data and the need to leverage it as decision-making intelligence has led to a worldwide demand for more IT infrastructure capacity. Initiatives aimed at server virtualization, data center consolidation, network upgrades, unified communications and storage optimization are increasing exponentially as organizations attempt to manage, store and deliver more information, more efficiently.

Recently TEKsystems, the nation’s leading technology staffing and services company, commissioned a focus group in downtown Chicago to explore the challenges associated with tackling these critical network-based initiatives. Led by James Staten of Forrester Research, the group of 11 IT leaders from marquis companies across a variety of industries also discussed the main methods, approaches and vendor communities utilized for guidance, management and resources.

Status of the Organization

"There are so many moving parts."

The majority of focus group participants report that their organizations are in the implementation phase of IT infrastructure initiatives, with data center consolidation (78 percent), network upgrades (78 percent), server virtualization initiatives (67 percent) and security initiatives (56 percent) most prevalent. Only 22 percent of participants have not begun implementing IT infrastructure optimization projects (VoIP / UC, data center consolidation, virtual desktop and SAN optimization), but are planning to initiate them within the next 12 months.

Key Challenges

"The problem is in the blood, not just the wires. I have more work than people — but it’s difficult to get headcount."

As they undertake these projects, most participants rank staying within budget and demonstrating return on investment as their most significant challenges (55 percent), with architecture issues following behind (44 percent). However, 66 percent of participants, the highest percentage, cited human capital challenges as their second or third highest priority problem. As one leader said, “I constantly think about how I’m going to get people with the right technical and soft skills, experience levels and industry knowledge, when and where I need them.”

Managing the Gaps

"I’m looking for really dynamic people. In fact, when I find them, I hire them and build a job for them if I have to."

IT leaders realize that their IT organization’s structure and skill set composition will need to adapt to meet new and growing needs associated with the surging volume of data they manage. Some of the participants hired consultants to advise on the optimal roadmap and organizational structure for their IT departments upon completing network-based initiatives; but even these leaders felt uncertain about exactly how the change would occur and whether their organizations were prepared or equipped to “make the investment required to make the change real.”

While they may not be sure about the organization chart one to three years ahead, IT leaders are certain about one thing: they have talent gaps and they need to close them, quickly.

According to the participants, talent gaps are dynamic and far reaching problems. IT leaders report that they are not only in need of people with certain “hot” technical skills — but also, they struggle to source and develop talent with the right industry knowledge, business acumen and cultural fit to align their IT initiatives with business strategies. As one participant shared, “I need more people who can act as conduits between the techies and the business.” Others expressed similar concerns regarding cultural fit and vertical insight: “If they’re going to last, they have to fit into our team,” said one. “It’s very difficult to find project-driven folks that also have vertical experience,” said another. Especially in terms of security and architecture needs, participants stress that the most effective teams consist of people with strong industry insight who understand the impact that technology initiatives have on the business.

Workforce Planning

"One thing that tends to get sidelined is workforce planning… This is unfortunate since most often it’s people, not technology, that derail IT projects."

Despite their need for talented IT professionals to help tackle network-based projects, the majority of participants confess that the budgetary and architecture issues they face frequently sideline their workforce planning activities. They report that they give the most consideration (55 percent) to “burstable” talent needs to implement and manage particularly heavy periods of workload (i.e. technology deployments). However, many leaders are not proactively planning for how they will hire, train, outsource or staff the skill sets they simply do not have or those that they will need to backfill.

Those participants who do conduct workforce planning mainly take a “one size fits all” approach. While they recognize that talent needs differ during the “plan,” “build” and “run” phases of a project, they do not feel they have the time or support required to effectively scope and manage a flexible talent solution throughout the entire project lifecycle.

Overall, the participants are not satisfied with the state of workforce planning in their IT organization, and identify this area as one that could and should be improved. As one participant shared, “My failure to workforce plan appropriately extended our project from 18 months to three years.”

The Current State

"It’s an imperfect reality."

During the planning and implementations phases, participants primarily rely on Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and Systems Integrators (SIs) when turning to outside support for their network initiatives. These service providers are selected in lieu of adding internal headcount and / or working with pure staffing providers for several reasons. First, participants note the increasing trend toward “committee based decision making” in which Procurement, HR, business leaders and other organizational leaders are called upon to weigh into the selection of service partners. OEMs and SIs typically have well-established brands that most stakeholders feel they can trust to help “get the job done” with the right expertise. Second, participants point to budget constraints. By selecting an OEM or SI for service support, IT leaders can shift OPEX expenses to CAPEX budgets, bundle services into hardware costs, and / or achieve SOW-based solutions that are accounted for differently from an additional FTE or time and materials contractors. Utilizing OEMs / SIs also allows them to avoid restrictive co-employment or term limitation rules and difficult contract labor acquisition systems.

At the most basic level, they seek to align with a provider that meets three essential credibility-enhancing criteria:

  1. Talk about service capabilities clearly and with confidence;
  2. Share proven methodologies for how work will get done; and
  3. Offer references to other clients and projects they’ve successfully implemented in the past.

While OEMs and SIs are the main “go-tos” for network-based managed services needs, participants also express several problems with these providers. As one leader said, “Usually, these guys are a bit too big to really care about my project.” Another leader agreed, commenting, “I feel they are often clunky and not adaptable to meet me where I need them. Their approach is, ‘here’s what we have for you,’ and it’s not always exactly what I need.” Additionally, participants express a generally-held belief that this “breed” of provider tends to “bring in the A team to sell, then uses a B team to deliver the goods.”

Moreover, when asked, participants do not see a large difference between the quality of resources provided by OEM and SI vendors, and staff augmentation providers. In fact, most participants are aware that OEMs and SIs often source their talent from staffing services firms, passing along heavy mark-ups to the end client.

Given the quality and cost observations, participants did express strong interest in relying on staffing providers for more alternative staffing solutions, more services and more outcome-based work. However, participants also point out specific concerns staffing providers would need to address before earning their consideration and ultimate partnership:

  • Consultative advice. As one participant noted, “I really valued one staffing provider that came in and evaluated all of our people, processes and skills, then developed a game plan to achieve our goals along with an estimated ROI. But that’s not common. I wish it were.” Another participant echoed this thought, “Yes staffing providers tend to offer ‘hands on people’ who are great. But from time to time I also need some theoretical and strategic direction that I know I can find from higher-end consulting firms; I’m not sure I can always get that direction from staffing providers.”
  • Clear capabilities. Participants expressed some ambiguity about many staffing providers’ full suite of services and their ability to really deliver results versus the labor hours alone. “I feel better about a provider that can tell me how it’s going to do what it says it can do. Methodology really matters to me,” said one participant. Another shared, “I don’t think many staffing providers are very clear on their marketing message. One guy tells me they do ‘this,’ another from the same company says they do ‘that.’” In general, the ability of the provider to be extremely articulate about its capabilities is of high importance to IT leaders. As one participant stated, “I’ve encountered some staffing sales guys who stutter when I ask them if they can do a particular project for me. It should be a simple answer, but when they stutter, I can’t trust them. A simple ‘no’ is much better than a messy ‘yes.’ If they don’t have confidence in their capabilities, I sure don’t!”
  • Proactive engagement. Participants’ experience with many staffing providers is that they engage with a service need too late to earn the service business. “Most staffing providers aren’t close enough to my business to know what’s going on,” said one participant. “By the time my project has open reqs, the staffing companies are all over it, but it’s too late. We’ve already engaged with a service partner and decided on a direction.” Another added, “If you’re too focused on providing resumes and bodies, you’re going to miss the real opportunities and a spot on our strategic vendor list.”

Achieving Real Staffing Value

"If you can show me you’re able, I'm willing!"

The focus group concluded with each participant identifying the actions he / she wanted to see more staffing providers implement to add greater value to their organizations and their network-based initiatives. In addition to the ideas noted above, the following list encompasses their thoughts:

  • “Bring me top guns.” IT leaders suggest staffing providers build focused service practice areas that include three to five full-time experts “who really know the space, can build a methodology and train competent staff.” They’re looking for “someone consultative who can balance outside perspectives and experiences with similar projects, and institutional knowledge gained from within my organization.”
  • “Partner in the planning.” Participants say they’d appreciate service providers that “align account planning processes to my budgetary review process.” They see benefit in building plans together that span the “here and now, as well as address service needs several years out.” They recognize that workforce planning is not a core competency of theirs and that they could use help.
  • “Help align it and the business.” It’s critical for service providers to understand the business problems that precede the need for a technology solution. Participants say they value service providers that have “so many strong connections into the business, they can tell me what’s going on and what my internal customers really want.”
  • “Proactively offer solutions – not just resumes.”In terms of value-added staffing, IT leaders express a desire for their providers to “start doing more around onboarding and knowledge transfer to keep the institutional knowledge gained from supporting different projects.” Ultimately, they are interested in providers that can and will do more than just provide resumes; they need to provide solutions. As previously discussed, staffing providers seeking service-based business should be prepared to point to past performance, defined service methodologies and client references. As one participant said, “If you can show me you’re able, I’m willing. You already get my people so I’d love to see where we can go from there.”

Conclusion

TEKsystems extends its sincere appreciation to Forrester Research and all of the IT leaders who participated in this focus group. The voice of our customer is extremely important to us as our customers define “value” and therefore dictate our service priorities and investments to our business model. Our findings from this focus group, in tandem with data from other client feedback forums we regularly conduct, provide immense insight. We will leverage this knowledge to continue to deepen client relationships and maximize client partnerships.

Assess Your Human Capital Management Plan

It is important to assess your current state and understand your goals before you can build a human capital management plan that can meet your needs. Ask yourself the following questions to evaluate where you are.

Will IT’s goals drive the right business outcomes?

While not an easy task, it is important that IT and the business are aligned. Both groups need to lay out their priorities and long term plans to ensure that the IT organization is working toward supporting business priorities. With both parties in agreement on what’s most important and the strategy to achieve desired outcomes, you’ll be in a better position to set appropriate project and then staffing goals.

Are your providers set up to help you find the right resources for your growing and changing needs?

Your service provider should know your organization well enough to create an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) that articulates all of the benefits of working for your organization and helps to attract top skill sets into it. Additionally, your provider should understand your corporate and IT cultures, what business acumen IT professionals need to be successful as well as your short and long term business strategy. This information is essential to crafting the right service delivery solution — and finding the right resources for the job.

Are you focused only on filling open positions as they’re identified or do you have a workforce plan in place?

It is important to have a complete talent management plan that takes the entire project lifecycle into account — from ‘plan’ to ‘build’ to ‘run’ phases — as talent needs tend to shift from one phase to the next. Do you know what skills you want to train for, to hire, to outsource, to backfill? Do you know which providers you will leverage to support you in each stage?

Does your workforce plan include recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training and retaining your IT professionals?

Your workforce plan should go beyond sourcing skills sets. How will you onboard efficiently? How will you capture, retain and communicate institutional knowledge and lessons learned? Do you know who your key performers are and do you have a formal retention plan in place?

About TEKsystems®

People are at the heart of every successful business initiative. At TEKsystems, we understand people. Every year we deploy over 80,000 IT professionals at 6,000 client sites across North America, Europe and Asia. Our deep insights into IT human capital management enable us to help our clients achieve their business goals – while optimizing their IT workforce strategies. We provide IT staffing solutions, IT talent management expertise and IT services to help our clients plan, build and run their critical business initiatives. Through our range of quality-focused delivery models, we meet our clients where they are, and take them where they want to go, the way they want to get there.

TEKsystems. Our people make IT possible.

1 Technology Trends You Can’t Afford to Ignore”, Gartner webinar, September 29, 2010

2 Infrastructure and Operations: Top 10 Trends to Watch”, Gartner Symposium presentation, September 14, 2010