The term ‘war for talent’, first coined by McKinsey in 1997, pointed to an increasingly competitive landscape for attracting and retaining talented staff.
An overwhelming number of chief information officers in all industries across Australia struggle to find the right people across just about every area of IT.
But the issue goes well beyond technology teams. As more millennials with different technology expectations enter the workforce, tech chiefs face enormous pressure to deliver solutions that enhance workforce productivity and improve employee experience.
Senior technology executives gathered in Sydney and Melbourne recently to discuss the role technology plays in attracting and retaining top talent at their organisations. The lunch events were sponsored by Citrix.
Citrix executive vice president, business strategy and chief marketing officer, Tim Minahan, says technology should be the enabler – the way we work is changing and people can work from anywhere.
“It’s an increasingly dynamic activity that people expect to be as adaptable as they are,” he says.
“How we work is changing and favouring organisations that enable employees with flexibility and personalised tools to boost productivity, engagement and creativity.
“The business advantage goes to those who can recruit, retain and empower the best talent with the preferred tools that make technology an enabler, not an inhibitor. The benefits of flexible work environments have been well documented. Flexible working allows employees to enjoy a better work-life balance – it helps to relieve work-related stress and cuts down on commute time and cost.”
Technology shouldn’t be complex or confusing – it should be something that just helps people get their jobs done, adds Colin Brookes, senior VP, sales and services, Asia-Pacific and Japan at Citrix.
“It should be a true enabler, working in the background without fuss so that work can get done how, where and when needed. Technology should be almost invisible. It can be a game changer for companies with smart technology like artificial intelligence or automation making work faster and simpler for employees,” he says.
Technology is a table-stake and people are more connected and tech-savvy than they have ever been, according to Viva Energy Australia general manager of technology and digital, John Sinistaj.
The energy organisation leverages some of the best and cutting-edge digital technologies to motivate its teams to learn, says Sinistaj.
“In leveraging collaboration platforms, the teams are able to work more effectively in an open and transparent way,” he says.
Leaving old tools and systems in a business is equivalent to gambling on the future of your workforce, says Rohan Penman, global head of technology at tea retailer, T2.
“I’ve often seen people simply walk away from what appears to be a great business due to the limitations imposed on them by prehistoric or restrictive solutions. There’s often no capability to be agile around changes within aged systems and this then stifles creativity and future strategy as the end goal is unachievable in a decent timeframe,” he says.
Service Stream head of enterprise architecture and cybersecurity, Adam Buczko, says workforce productivity is always a prominent driver and objective when investing in business-enabling technologies.
“I would question any line of business investments that have no productivity improvement objectives – with some exceptions such as regulatory compliance and/or security.
“In our case, each significant technology investment is subjected to ROI assessments and a formal business case. From my observations, organisations adopting new or emerging technologies not only attract top technical talent but are also better at staff retention in general," he says.
Millennium Services Group CIO, David Benjamin, says technology plays a role in allowing staff to do their jobs more efficiently which, in turn, increases engagement and helps retain staff.
“An example of this is the current deployment of a new workforce management system which will allow staff to enter timesheets, view and change shifts and view pay slips from their own device,” he says.
Dealing with the productivity gap
Attendees agreed that relatively slow take up of new technologies is a significant factor in the productivity gap or the difference between output per worker, or GDP per person employed, when comparing one with another.
“A desire to automate will typically take priority over a desire to transform, automation is much easier,” Service Stream’s Buczko says.
“CIOs can definitely help to leverage new technologies that improve productivity as well as point to operational complexities of the business, using traditional disciplines such as, for example, business architecture,” he says.
T2’s Penman adds the productivity gap is normally found in old solutions, heavily manual processes or totally lacking a technology solution.
“The issue can often be the ownership by the functional process owner in the business. The skill level of experience they have, or lack thereof, to push towards a new solution is critical. People often don’t like or understand change and often have to be dragged along for the journey,” he says.
To address the productivity gap, T2 is forcing an assessment of whether or not its systems are truly ‘fit for purpose’ to take the company forward.
“We are using a group of business architects and a strategy to choose the ‘very best’ fit solutions to transform the business,” Penman says.
The C-suite is faced with a complexity conundrum – the pursuit of agility, productivity and workforce mobility has added more systems, applications and services, according to Citrix’s Minahan.
“But what has been removed? Almost nothing,” he says.
“Today’s organisations are feeling the impacts. Research commissioned by Citrix revealed that 55 per cent of Australian businesses believe their IT environments are significantly more complex or more complex than two years ago.”
Companies need to provide a secure digital workspace where a worker can access all the applications, data and systems to get their work done. This workspace needs to be easily deployed and managed by IT and can’t be constrained by where the data and applications are hosted or even what operating system they require, Minahan says.
This can free up time, resources and eliminate frustration.
“The futuristic state outlines the ideal, flexible, secure, mobile and more importantly, simple work environment. However, this is not some distant future. The future is now and is already being leveraged by some of the world’s largest businesses to overcome the complexity they were facing, simplify work and enable their workforce to work securely and seamlessly from anywhere and on any device or network,” he says.
Millennium Services Group’s Benjamin, feels there is too much time spent on technology issues, which is a distraction as staff need to come to the rescue of colleagues with IT issues.
“Solid technology platforms with adequate training are imperative,” he says.
Blackhawk Network IT director, Asia Pacific, Robert Braxton, says worker productivity is difficult to measure as systems can work as designed but it’s becoming very difficult to bring everybody together when companies are global.
“Inclusion is the key,” he says.
The rise of the millennials
Roundtable attendees also discussed whether or not their internal processes had changed over time to meet the expectations of staff, particularly millennials who are entering the job market.
T2’s Penman says he hasn’t ever aimed at making changes just for millennials – not unless it would benefit the whole team.
“Millennials, like any category of age groups, are part of a greater team, the next generation of contributors and they are certainly invited to contribute on behalf of all team members. Just like anybody in your team, they can have great ideas and suggestions and should always be encouraged to speak out accordingly,” he says.
“They too need to develop like each generation that has gone before them. Every age group in our workforce can benefit from more modern software solutions, flexible choices in hardware, flexible workplace conditions and the option to not have to wear socks!”
Viva Energy Australia’s Sinistaj says while the company is actively working to bring in more millennials, it is constantly challenging the way it works to ensure staff are as effective as they can be.
Finally, Millennium Services Group’s Benjamin, says he finds millennials to be confident and openly ambitious. This was reflected in what they prioritise when seeking a new role.
“A clear path for career progression, competitive salary and technology are the key drivers for attracting professionals of this generation. This has resulted in our internal processes being automated to be quicker and less onerous while also ensuring regular performance feedback and recognition are standard procedure,” he says.
Meanwhile, V/Line chief information officer, says all executives now understand the talent pool is changing as millennials now make up 40 per cent of the workforce and, along with Gen-Xers, will make up 95 per cent by 2030.
“Unless AI is able to replace the entire workforce by this date, then organisations really need to consider these facts when designing new work practices. I think some of the larger organisations are leading the way in this area.
“Introducing ‘hot desks’ and remote working policies using chat bots and machine learning removes mundane tasks and not only improves employee morale but improves data quality and customer satisfaction. This frees employees to handle the exceptions,” he says.