Digital Technologies Driving Skills Development Needs

Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud

Organizational leaders across all industry sectors are recognizing that the buzz in digital technologies – social, mobile, analytics, cloud (SMAC) – is much more than talk these days. Digital technologies are transforming business processes, creating competitive advantage, and driving other top and bottom line improvements at numerous public and private enterprises, according to a 2014 Harvard Business Review survey.   Yet, as business leaders thrill at the promise of digital transformation, astute CIOs are quickly realizing that these benefits could be short-lived at best without a fresh breed of “T-Shaped” IT professionals, skilled in SMAC, as well as the ability to integrate these technologies within and across the technical and business architectures of the firm to ultimately create value for customers.

T-Shaped Professional Depth and Breadth

The Technical Professional

As Gartner reports in its 2016 Planning Guide for Professional Effectiveness, the desired profile of the IT worker in today’s digital enterprises is that of the “T-Shaped” professional. The T-shape indicating both depth of expertise in one or more technical disciplines, combined with the breadth to understand, innovate and effectively communicate how technology can serve the enterprise in a holistic, integrated manner for maximum productivity and customer satisfaction. Such is the case, not only in for-profit ventures, but in numerous non-profits as well – including and perhaps especially, higher education as that sector continues to aggressively seek ways to innovate new services to enhance the learning experience, while driving new operating models to manage and reduce costs.

T-Shaped Professionals for Higher Education

Harvard University’s recent IT Academy is a marvelous example of how higher education is looking internally and developing T-Shaped professionals to advance its digital transformation. According to its public website, the IT Academy was built “by IT professionals for IT professionals,” in recognition of the changing nature and demands in “the way faculty, students and staff [at Harvard University] are consuming and increasingly depending on technology [services,]” to achieve their teaching, learning and administration objectives. Harvard’s IT Academy provides development opportunities for IT staff members along six competency tracks, encompassing depth and breadth of expertise. The tracks cover technical disciplines in areas such as cloud dev-ops, unified communications, mobile networking, teaching and learning technologies, and research computing, core practices emphasizing cross-discipline skills in project management, agile ITIL and information security, and cultural skills for advancing a service mindset and trusted advisor partnerships across the Harvard community. If employee response is any indication of success, the IT Academy reports all classes have had full enrollment since the program rolled out three months ago, with more classes being added to meet the high demand.

Progressive Development Plans and Digital Badging

Level I, Level II, Level III, Level IV

What’s also unique about Harvard’s IT Academy are the four levels of development in each track, enabling staff members’ individual development planning. IT professionals earn a badge for every new level of proficiency achieved in each competency area. Managers play a key role by building development goals with their staff members and awarding digital badges upon the staff member’s completion of courses and other activities. The levels of development include Level I (Learn), Level II (Develop), Level III (Apply), and Level IV (Master). Each level is defined by specific criteria to ensure consistency when awarding badges. While still emerging, the progressive development structure and use of digital badging to document, track and recognize individual staff member accomplishments is an innovative way to motivate continuous learning and tie individual development to improved performance outcomes. The IT Academy is a strong model for developing T-Shaped professionals who collaborate to meet the ever-growing needs of their users. While realization of organizational benefits remain, Harvard’s investment in the education and development of its IT talent through the IT Academy may very well be an example of how to bridge the gap to the digital future in higher education.

Below are eight steps to building T-shaped professionals in your organization.

  • Identify T-shaped skills that have strategic importance to your ability to build closer, stronger ties with your customers, clients and partners.
  • Conduct a skill-gap analysis using a comprehensive assessment tool to determine each employees’ current proficiency level against the desired proficiency level.
  • Prioritize gaps across departments or the organization.
  • Establish a structured training & development approach around key competency tracks that align to the organization’s strategic goals.
  • Organize a mix of rich content, with both instructor-led and on-line courses from a variety of content providers, (e.g., ASPE, Ouellette & Associates, Skillsoft and, and include real-world practicums for on-the-job application of newly learned skills that reinforce job performance outcomes.
  • Encourage individuals and their managers to create targeted development plans that support growth from novice-learner to expert-master in each competency.
  • Incorporate digital badging to record, track, share, and celebrate individual achievement in each track.
  • Recognize individual and team level accomplishments in building T-shaped competencies to create and sustain momentum in becoming a learning organization.