Q&A: Mark Evans, RLB

We grilled our guest editor about his greatest successes and regrets and what he loves so much about this industry.

What do you think will be the biggest IT challenges CIOs will face over the next few years?

Relevance. The job is being eroded by the ubiquity of tools and services which are open and clear in purpose. I firmly believe that there is a time coming imminently where one will think no more of accessing, using and changing a cloud service than they think about using a new electricity supplier.

If security and availability are issues which can be provided to any user, there will be no requirement for a CIO. Surprisingly, I consider this to be a good thing. Apparently, I'm a turkey voting for Christmas.

A lot of big providers will then be relying on user inertia to support their business model as there will be critical convergence on tools and facilities.

If security and availability are issues which can be provided to any user, there will be no requirement for a CIO. Surprisingly, I consider this to be a good thing. Apparently, I'm a turkey voting for Christmas, but I am also a consumer and if savings on overhead can be reflected on the shelves of stores (online or physical) then everyone wins. Job protectionism helps no one. And me? I might wind up selling a cheaper copy of The Big Issue..!

There have been a lot of reports recently about IT skills shortages. Is this something you are seeing and is enough being done to counteract it?

I have seen skill shortages. We have recently begun to develop systems for clients and the skills to work in a structured environment to provide online services seem to be a rarity. With the expansion of cloud and the emergence of apps as part of the eco-system there appears to be a number of tectonic shifts in the development environment and programming staff are trying to be well-versed in languages which seem to come in and out of favour on a fairly capricious basis.

As someone who managed to crash a mainframe by trying to get COBOL to do recursion I have side-stepped being a programmer or developer, but in managing development staff over the years I sometimes see a haunted, "Thousand Yard Stare" from people whose skill sets were "hot" last year but are commodity in the job market today.

To counter this, we could always ask Apple, Microsoft and the likes of Google to just stop... but I don't think that is likely to happen.

I think that a root-and-branch review of ICT training provision is required. The UK was the leading edge during the Industrial Revolution (this, coming from a Black Country lad who has seen steelworks close and heavy industry banished to the periphery with the attendant loss of jobs and the misery of reliance on the benefits system). We are missing the opportunity to use our (seemingly) inherent engineering skills to push technology forward in a world market.

Anyone who has attended training courses knows that they are provided to attain a certification. A thorough understanding of the subject matter is not an output of these courses and I have turned away people with industry accreditations who clearly have no understanding of the area for which they have crisp, new certificates. We need government intervention to bring in apprenticeships for people who want to enter IT. Train someone to understand the fundamentals of systems development and then let their passion and/or interest drive their choice of toolkit. Build a firm foundation and let the industry grow - the British have always been able to show the world a thing or two when the innovators have been suitably equipped.

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