Enterprise Toolbox: Four Iterations of the L Word

SAN MATEO (07/24/2000) - Whenever I read an article concerning the perceived IT resource shortage, I have to chuckle. I hear Cheech and Chong saying, "We ain't got no stinkin' IT labor shortage!" What we do have is a mind-set that keeps us from solving the problem.

It seems my colleague Bob Lewis holds similar thoughts on this matter. I wholeheartedly agree with Bob that our perceived IT labor shortage is self-inflicted.

In my mind, we need only apply the "L word" four times in order to solve our perceived IT labor shortage. What is the L word? It is learn, and here is how we must apply it.

Let's start with our organizations. Many companies are still using the old centralized, hierarchical model to run their business. This antiquated model is not efficient given today's distributed, interconnected world.

Aside from being wildly ineffective, these days hierarchical organizations are based on commands and control. They do not foster trust or support learning as a core value. Yes, people in hierarchically organized companies do speak of training, but learning as a core value that permeates the entire company is rare at hierarchically based companies.

As we move to more efficient working models, CTOs and other business leaders need to put learning on the high-priority list. Continuous learning should be the order of the day for the entire company. This will keep management and IT staff on the fast track to technological change.

The second application of the L word has to do with our young people. Bob Lewis refers to the need to "grow" our young people in the ways of technology. I too have recently written on the time investment we need to make to grow our future IT resources (see "A modest investment in time today will bring businesses a better workforce in the future," www.infoworld.com/printlinks).

Growing our young people will take time, and it won't instantly provide new IT professionals. However, I know you can make a difference! Young people often struggle with where to take their futures. Your passion for technology and a small time investment can yield positive results for the young person and for the industry as a whole.

Our next iteration of the L word takes us to the area of seasoned professionals; there are a bevy of these. In the past, many companies have resisted investing in the continuing education of senior-level personnel, often figuring it cheaper to hire less-experienced staff. This has been a major error, one that is at the core of our perceived IT labor shortage.

Given the rapid rise of our Information Age, ongoing learning is paramount.

Although IT professionals are keenly aware that they must continually grow their skills, the attitude that many companies have toward experienced IT professionals remains largely unchanged.

CTOs and other business leaders need to grow and learn to update their ideas concerning education and seasoned professionals. As with young people, the ongoing education of IT personnel is a necessary investment.

Our final application of the L word has us reaching out. We must extend the learning construct to the various teams throughout our organizations. New organizational models have us forming dynamic, distributed teams to address specific issues.

When it comes to business issues that involve technology, we needn't limit available resources to the IT team. Technology is intertwined with almost every business process. We need to learn to draw on the talents of IT professionals and savvy talent within other areas of the company.

This might mean resolving an issue by forming a cross-company team that includes one person from customer service, two from IT, three from sales, and so on. If we identify company resources based on skills rather than on position, forming dynamic cross-company teams and rapidly resolving issues becomes the norm.

The L word can take us far if we are willing to be adaptable and open to change. The IT labor shortage is merely a perception; we can overcome it. Are you willing to learn? Write to me at maggie_biggs@infoworld.com.

Maggie Biggs, a lifelong learner, is director of the InfoWorld Test Center.

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