I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak on a panel here at the "Everything Channel" event in Dallas.
Ostensibly, we were supposed to be talking about 2011 storage opportunities for resellers and solution providers. But, somehow, we got into a number of far more interesting areas, including the strategic importance of the above topic.
We ran out of time, but the thought keeps rattling around in my head ...
The Basic Premise
As the IT industry goes through yet another dramatic consolidation and transition, newer skills will command a premium, and traditional skills less so. Generating new skills requires non-trivial investment: either hiring, training or usually both.
Somehow along the way, I fell into the habit of using the term "skills portfolio" as a term to capture the right mindset: here are the skills that will be less valuable in the future, and here are the ones that will likely be more valuable.
And we all want our portfolios (personal and professional) to be more valuable in the future.
The "portfolio analogy" works for me because there's such a strong analogy to the financial world: If the investment market was changing fast, you'd pay a lot of attention to your financial investments, wouldn't you? The same can be said for any skill associated with the IT marketplace -- it's changing fast.
Creating a portfolio mindset for evaluating skills makes obvious sense if you are a vendor of technologies, like EMC. It also makes strategic sense if you are responsible for an organization that consumes technology, like an IT function. I believe it is particularly important if your business is to act as an intermediary between the two -- if you're a reseller, solution provider and/or service provider -- and want to capitalize on the shifts going on in the IT marketplace.
And, if you've made your career in some aspect of IT, it's a good time to have this discussions as well :-)
The IT Organizational View
Call it private cloud, call it fully virtualized, call it IT-as-a-service. It doesn't matter: we're going through a period where IT is built differently, operated differently and consumed differently.
It's clear to me that the legacy specializations we so often find in IT organizations just won't be so much in demand going forward. Broader technology backgrounds and strong organizational process focus (coupled with newer tech experience) I think will be very much in demand. We already can see strong desire for these newer skills in our customer base, as well as our own IT organization.
Smart IT leaders will likely realize that success in this new IT world will require a healthy helping of new skills that probably aren't in the organization today, and should start figuring out not only what those newer skills might be, but the best way to get them: train, hire or use outside expertise.
Put differently, at some point, people costs become a dominant factor for so many IT models (there's only so much you can gain from cheaper tech), that a sophisticated approach to defining and building the new internal skills portfolio seems like a very relevant and strategic discussion.
When I talk to customers and ask them about their portfolio, I usually get the predictable roster of applications and supporting vendor infrastructure. Once in a rare while, I get someone making a list of what the IT organization is good at, and what areas they need to get better at in the future.
I think we'll see more of these skill and competency discussions in the future :-)
The IT Solution Provider View
Those new IT-related skills are going to have to come from somewhere, and most solution providers realize this. But acquiring these newer skills is an expensive proposition, especially when the expected payback is somewhere out on the horizon.
But those investments are being made -- I see them everywhere. They're being made cautiously and studiously -- but they're being made.
The preference appears to be a fast movement towards a "practice" model -- both horizontal and vertical -- where multiple disciplines can be rallied around a central topic area for a customer.
Popular horizontal practices that I get exposed to include infrastructure (especially virtualization and cloud), information management (storage, backup, archiving, content mgmt, repositories, etc.) security (in all of its glorious variations) client computing (think desktop virtualization and knowledge worker support) as well as a few others.
Popular vertical practices in the US appear to be anything to do with health care (from biotech to provider to payer), education (preschool through postgraduate), financial services (banking, insurance, etc) and non-defense public sector (think state and local governments, for example). No shortage of interesting verticals to build a practice around.
The magic happens when a solution provider can use a vertical engagement to bring in the horizontal practices. The industry-specific vertical focus is the lens that makes all the technology stuff so relevant to the end user.
If you're a solution provider at scale, my best advice is that you think of your skills portfolio in terms of building both horizontal and vertical practices. Try and avoid specializing by technology and/or vendor.
The ones who've achieved success by using a practice approach generally sing their praises as compared to other solution provider models -- but not everyone is doing it.
The IT Professional View
Many of you reading this make a living in the IT business working for an IT group, working for a vendor, or something in between the two. Perhaps you've always thought of your career in terms of expertise with specific technologies of one sort or another. Perhaps you've invested in a string of certifications as a result.
I'm not going to say that's a bad idea going forward, but I will say that the most valuable skills going forward are those that can accelerate change within larger organizations -- being able to draw a picture of where it's going, and outlining the concrete steps towards that ultimate goal.
Because -- in an era of change -- those who can lead the charge are the most valuable.
We Are What We Know
Most people suspect the basic structure of our economy is undergoing some sort of structural change. Whether you call it the information economy, or the knowledge economy, or something else entirely: one thing is clear -- we will all be served well by paying explicit attention to the portfolio of skills we need today, and those that will undoubtedly be needed tomorrow.
So, what's in your skills portfolio?