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IT: Managing Choice, Change, Careers in 2020

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Decisions
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I don’t envy anyone these days in IT or CIO circles who is responsible for communications technology buying. Things certainly aren’t getting easier as we head into a new decade. Both analysts and consultants need to stay up on trends, and we hope that we’re making IT decisions easier by sharing insights about market dynamics.
 
The three Cs in the above title — choice, change, career — are important focus areas for IT. Before we dive into these takeaways, note how one element is conspicuously absent from this list: technology. The decade we’re about to leave brought profound technology changes, both in the enterprise and our lives. This state of constant change keeps analysts in demand, as our forte is tracking the broader trends and helping both buyers and sellers understand the business value of technology.
 
IT is certainly challenged in keeping up with these trends, and that’s where analysts and consultants come in. This dynamic was clear to me at last month’s Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) conference. I wrote about this more extensively here for BCStrategies, but the specific issue of IT’s changing role warrants further attention.
 
The opening keynote was given by No Jitter’s own Eric Krapf, and he discussed many important technology trends, such as cloud, AI, IoT, 5G, SD-WAN, and the meta-trend of digital transformation. All of these technologies have steadily matured over the last decade, and they are poised to transform not just IT’s world but the whole notion of work and how it’s done in 2020.
 
This brings me back to the three Cs — the things that IT really needs to worry about. Technology trends are always there, but these factors have more to do with what’s around the technology and its impact on the organization. These trends are profound, and the implications can’t be ignored. This is a very different reality from legacy times, where technology didn’t change nearly as quickly, and we’re not so far removed from a world built around premises-based hardware.
 
Much of that world still exists, so it’s not a big leap to see how IT can be challenged to keep up with today’s changing technologies. Nobody ever worried about the impact of a legacy phone system — everyone used the phones, end-user training wasn’t needed, and telephony wasn’t integrated with anything else. Once deployed in the workplace, IT didn’t need to give the phone system much further thought. At that time, there weren’t any practical alternatives to the PBX for telephony, and while maintenance was needed, new features were few and far between.
 
That seems quaint compared to what 2020 and beyond will bring; a common theme from the SCTC conference was how IT’s role is evolving. I would frame that evolution around these three Cs with IT managing them all. Each is driven by technology in its own way and represents an opportunity for analysts and consultants to bring expertise to support IT.
 
Managing Choice
While the cloud seems like an all-consuming inevitable force, it’s a two-edged sword. The new capabilities are undeniable, and enterprises are better off in many ways, especially in the spaces we cover. It seems like anything is possible in the cloud with the many services that providers offer, but IT professionals will have to weigh through these options and manage whatever they ultimately decide on.
 
At face value, this seems to contradict the consolidation we’ve seen at the top end of the market. Cloud is also a business of scale, and the major vendors have been bulking up to protect their positions, with the result being fewer players at the top of the food chain. This pattern largely holds across the three segments of cloud we follow the most closely — UCaaS, CCaaS, and CPaaS.
 
Beyond that is an ever-expanding realm of smaller and niche players, start-ups, etc., all of which can provide value to enterprises via the cloud. For IT, sticking with incumbent vendors for everything is the path of least resistance, and in many cases, they’re often challenged to go beyond that. Analysts and consultants know better, and it’s our business to know what’s out there. IT can easily expend their full energies understanding the technologies coming from the cloud, but that can leave little left to see the broader horizon and assess all the vendors that are building on those technologies.
 
Managing Change
Aside from managing choice from the messy vendor landscape, IT decision-makers must manage these changes. It’s a given that we must keep track of changing technology, but there are other types of change that maybe even more important for IT to manage. In his SCTC keynote, Krapf framed this by touching on three types of change: our jobs, and organizational and business requirements. While there is value in understanding the nuts and bolts of cloud technologies, also important is understanding how cloud can impact these types of changes.
 
When IT deploys any of these cloud offerings (UCaaS, CCaaS, CPaaS), these new capabilities can have a transformational impact on the organization. IT should consider the skills workers will need in a digital workplace driven by cloud platforms. Many applications are user-driven, and open APIs from CPaaS offerings give workers new capabilities to customize their workflows. To get full value from these technologies, enterprises will need to consider updating skillsets for both office workers and contact center agents. Going a step further, having these capabilities will become table stakes for hiring and retaining top talent from the growing pool of digital natives.
 
Technology-driven change also extends more broadly to the enterprise as a whole. IT needs to think about how cloud technologies will create new business requirements, like how it supports global growth. Aside from expanding into new regions to drive top-line growth, many businesses are looking to tap the global labor market, not just for the best talent but to cut costs.
 
The same holds for expanding global supply chains; the more automated things become, the greater the need for seamless, real-time communications. Reflecting this is the desire for a more decentralized organizational structure, where fluidity is needed to support all modes of work — desk-based, mobile, and remote. This emerging set of needs is exactly where cloud excels, so IT needs to be thinking along these lines in terms of getting strategic value from UCaaS, CCaaS, and CPaaS.
 
Managing Your Career
Speaking of strategic value, if IT can’t deliver that, their role risks being diminished or outsourced altogether. This is why managing both choice and change are so important. Having a world-class understanding of cloud technology alone isn’t enough for success career-wise when these other elements are having such a strong impact on the business.
 
Deep technology knowledge may have been sufficient with the PBX since it didn’t have much impact on the business beyond providing dial tone. There was nothing transformational about the PBX, so IT didn’t really need to be concerned beyond providing reliable telephony service. The landscape has shifted dramatically with the cloud, and that shift is key to how IT’s role is changing.
 
To make that point, I’ll return once more to Krapf’s talk, where he shared some findings from Enterprise Connect’s 2018 Salary & Career Survey. Below is a comparison of the skillsets IT believes will be important for career success going forward, along with where their current skills are strongest.
 

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IT skills required
Source: Enterprise Connect 2018 Career & Salary Survey
The Enterprise Connect survey covers many topics, but even from this small data set, it should be clear that IT has a skills gap challenge. Many consultants know first-hand how telephony-centric and legacy-based much of IT’s expertise is, and how this doesn’t align well with the ever-pervasive cloud. Of course, many IT practitioners have done a great job staying ahead of the curve and embracing emerging technologies. Others have had difficulty keeping up for a variety of reasons, and in these cases, they have their own career prospects to worry about.
 
The three themes for IT to manage cover a lot of ground, but there’s even more to consider to stay current and make sound technology decisions. As we leave one decade behind and start a new one, the stakes have never been higher for IT nor the opportunity for analysts and consultants to support them. If this aligns with your outlook, then consider this post a primer for what’s coming at the 30th edition of Enterprise Connect this March. Check out the conference program here, and get registration here; register now using the code NOJITTER to save $200 off the current rate!

This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.