Three key challenges facing IT workforces

02 December 2019
As factories become smarter and organizations embrace the benefits of digital transformation, there are evident efficiency, productivity, and bottom-line gains on offer. It is also clear, however, that there is uncertainty facing people working in those environments. This change brings with it many new opportunities and new positive ways of working.
 
The move towards digital transformation represents a significant culture change. Many are already embracing it. Although, what is an opportunity to early-adopters excited by the future, can also appear a threat to many others.
 
Fear of the future can extend throughout organizations, from the factory-floor machine operators who worry their roles could disappear through automation, to the IT specialists responsible for delivering the next wave of transformation.
 
This is just a small part of three significant workforce challenges we believe to be affecting IT and data specialists working in manufacturing and other large organizations now.
 
Challenge #1: Shortage of skills in the face of change
 
The benefits that digital transformation brings to innovation, efficiency, sustainability, and the bottom line are becoming ever more apparent. Knowing when and how to adopt these new ways of working is preventing many organizations from taking the plunge. When decision paralysis takes over, things can move very slowly indeed.
 
The talent pool is in a state of flux in lots of large companies. With the boomer generation of engineering experts now leaving the workforce, organizations are struggling to fill the void with new engineers and a more extensive range of skills. You will lose count of the number of people who say that every company is now a technology company, but the premise has never been more accurate.
 
Companies are being forced to invest heavily in new people and training to improve the tech fluency of their workforces. Skilled people who understand how AI and machine learning can enhance production settings are in high demand. Data scientists already working in these companies find themselves stretched across a far broader range of requirements. The key is to ensure that the entire workforce is engaged in the new ways of working, and that the work is appealing and interesting to the new generation.
 
Challenge #2: The changing role of data scientists
 
Successful organizations have always been driven by understanding their data and the role of IT specialist has evolved dramatically over the last ten years. It has moved from focusing mainly on gathering business intelligence to increasingly complicated analytical work that drives business performance. Now data scientist is a role you hear more of within organizations.
 
The advent of smart, connected sensors, and the Industrial Internet of Things mean that even skilled data experts have started to fear the threat of automation. This concern over obsolescence, however, is simply the next chapter in a long story that goes back to the birth of the industrial revolution.
 
History shows time and again that the opportunities outweigh the risks, and that the tasks replaced tend to be the mundane, repetitive ones. New capabilities, such as the ability to automate the analysis of asset data to see which machines are likely to fail next, mean that data scientists working on condition monitoring and predictive maintenance projects will be able to spend less time on these tasks, allowing them to focus on others where their unique expertise can be leveraged.
 
We have seen this happen regularly at clients that start using Senseye within their organizations.
 
Challenge #3: Culture shock
 
While many other business settings have been adapting to the influx of cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service, and the Internet of Things for some time now, the role played by IT in large companies has evolved at a more gradual pace over the last 20 years.
 
Large manufacturing companies for example still tend to develop new systems and ways of working entirely in-house. The pace of technological change has accelerated to the point that this approach is now unsustainable. Organizations in all sectors need their IT departments to be more agile and more adaptive to the changing world around them, but those that continue to try and do everything in isolation have found their ability to innovate stifled.
 
This has created two potential sources of culture shock.
 
Firstly, IT departments are being asked to look increasingly at their operational environments, which have traditionally been the domain of people with deep engineering expertise. Even within the same organization, some adjustment is often required for IT professionals to work together with engineers on operational technology (OT). The line between IT and OT is becoming increasingly blurred and the systems ever more interconnected.
 
Secondly, large organizations are becoming more open and forming more alliances with external experts and technology providers. These alliances accelerate innovation but are still not the most natural way of working for people that have spent their careers working very much behind closed doors.
 
Embracing the future
 
The three challenges of skills shortage, evolving roles and cultural change are significant, but they are not insurmountable. There are bigger, more existential threats that exist in the world. And when you consider these alongside the precise financial and environmental benefits of digital transformation, it is clearly a case of when, not if, organisations will make the leap to digital transformation.
 
And although the future can be scary, we have found that those who embrace change, who get ahead of it, work with expert partners, and engage their people in the journey benefit the most taking a competitive advantage compared to the others.