Data analytics and the CIO

The skills gap just got serious - especially when it comes to data analytics - warns Mark Samuels.

Doug May, business systems director at manufacturing specialist LoneStar, also recognises the crucial need for digital aptitude. He says modern firms are amassing data, yet much of this information is being ignored - not because it is unimportant but because the skills to mine and analyse data are difficult to find. However, May believes CIOs will be key in the search for talent.

Technology is great when it works, but it has a massive impact on the business when it crashes. 

"I can see the relevance of a head of digital or analytics role, but in small organisations, or ones that do not yet see the advantages that digital can offer, the responsibility will continue to fall to the CIO," he says. May states his IT team at LoneStar collaborates closely with marketing and has developed a great working relationship.

"They create things themselves but they come to me when they need assistance, so the rise of digital technology through the marketing department isn't a challenge to my authority. Such developments mean the CIO role will not disappear, but it will evolve. And that evolution is a continual process," he says.

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"Good CIOs will, in fact, will become more valuable to the business of their tight working relationship with suppliers. Technology is great when it works, but it has a massive impact on the business when it crashes. And I'm looking to develop contracts with providers where we work directly with the vendor to help us meet our targets."

Smart IT professionals, therefore, recognise the joined-up nature of business IT strategy. Karen Price, chief executive at e-skills UK, says the aptitude and analytical capability of individuals is crucial. With the right type of individuals in place, businesses can start to deal with the digital skills crisis. The best candidates possess a hybrid mix of business capability and IT aptitude.

"We have to improve the people using big data in order to increase productivity," she says. "We need a pipeline of talent coming into the IT industry, and the people inside the sector must continue to receive training." Price also draws attention to another long-term failing of the IT industry its inability to attract talented women into the sector.

"The whole industry has a negative stereotype attached to it," she says. "We need an injection of talent quickly, but we also need to take a long-term outlook on youngsters, and offer university students an opportunity to develop the right talent and differentiate themselves in the marketplace."

Sarah Flannigan, CIO at the National Trust, is a high profile example of a woman who is pushing the digital agenda. One of her key projects at the Trust has been to establish the importance of management information at the organisation, ensuring the right knowledge is available to key employees at the right time.

Flannigan took a circuitous role into the senior echelons of technology leadership. She joined the Trust in April 2010, having previously worked in senior operations, sales and marketing positions for manufacturing specialist David Salisbury. What marks her out is a focus on business objectives, something she says is paramount for all IT professionals in the digital age.

"Younger women must be shown how technology is really about creating business change and not just about IT systems. We have fabulous women in the Trust's IT department and we also have brilliant men," says Flannigan.

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