How to Build an IT ‘A’ Team During a Skills Crisis
Every IT leader faces challenges in growing their team. The demand from across the organization for new and better digital services is often unrelenting. Yet it can take many months and expenses to recruit the skilled IT personnel needed to resource those demands. Lennox Brown, CIO at Analogic faced this challenge and overcame it by creating a new kind of IT team. He’s turned his attention from always pursuing expert software developers, to instead hiring people with aptitude who he can quickly turn into the technical talent that is needed to support the business.
IT leaders have to continuously fight to attract and retain top tech talent because there aren’t enough qualified graduates to go around. Research from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2020, there will be a million more computing job vacancies than there are applicants who can fill them. What are companies planning to do to address the situation? A 2017 Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) survey of 600 senior IT executives in the US found that while many companies are being hit by tech skills shortages, two-thirds have no formal plan to address the challenge.
That’s why IT leaders like Lennox are approaching recruitment differently. Analogic provides healthcare and security technology products to advance the practice of medicine, so having the right tech talent on board can help save lives, as well as support the company’s bottom line.
At Analogic, Lennox’s plan is simple. He doesn’t always hire for a particular IT skill set. When it comes to hiring software developers, for example, he recognizes the need for self-starters, good communicators, and team players; people who can bridge the gap between the business teams demanding applications, and the development teams who deliver them. So Lennox seeks those skills first and an aptitude and energy to learn software development. It means that for many development roles, he doesn’t have to scramble to hire technical developers with years of coding experience who are in high demand, short supply and (quite often) expensive.
A significant light bulb moment for Lennox that accelerated his ‘hire the right people and teach them to develop’ approach was his discovery that not every developer needs to know how to code. An alternative approach that reduces or even circumvents the need to code is to develop business applications using a low-code or visual modeling platform instead. Via this approach, most application development work can be undertaken intuitively by a ‘low-code developer’ who selects small components of functionality from a library and drops them into a visual workflow on screen.
A low-code developer needs an aptitude for business logic and must have collaboration skills, but no coding skills are necessary. A significant proportion of most business applications can be built this way and it means that Lennox can resource his team from a bigger pool of applicants. Any technically complex aspects of a development, such as systems integrations, can be handed from the low-code developer to a technical developer or skilled coder during the later stages of development.
Of various low-code vendor platform options, Lennox chose Mendix for his team. He finds the low-code platform helps him both close the developer skills gap and also win tremendous value in creating a team that understands the business and its products.
One application built by Lennox’s team in a low-code environment is a telehealth application for the veterinary industry. The person he assigned the task to had no background in programming, but was familiar with healthcare technology, having been servicing ultrasound machines. With a couple days of training, along with someone more experienced showing him the ropes, he became proficient on the Mendix platform and then built the entire application within a couple of months. He continues to run the app today and is now one of Lennox’s leading low-code developers, now even teaching newcomers to the team so they, too, can become productive developers.
One of Lennox’s unique hires was a delivery driver who had a knack for technology combined with a tremendous work ethic and a real determination to transform his career. It would have taken time and money to teach him to code. He may or may not have had the aptitude. But he quickly came up to speed with how to develop in a low-code environment.
Certainly, low-code is easing recruitment for Lennox so he can to keep up with the development demands from the business. But the benefits don’t stop there. Low-code, by virtue of visual workflows and easy drag and drop components, allows greater agility in the way applications are built than with traditional code-based approaches. It means that innovative ideas for development can be pursued in a collaborative and iterative way. While some ideas will fall by the wayside, others that have potential can continue through the process of rapid experimentation and iteration as ideas gel into something meaningful. With low-code development, these ideas can progress to new value for the business. And that’s digital innovation that the company would have struggled to deliver, had Lennox not ‘thought outside the box’ and built a new strategy for creating his IT ‘A’ Team.