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The best mix of cloud skills? Fewer technical IT experts, more business process specialists

Shivkumar Gopalan Profile picture for user Shiv Gopalan March 16, 2022
With the proliferation of cloud technologies, there’s an urgent and growing need for people with business process expertise and a rapidly fading demand for traditional technical IT experts, as Shivkumar Gopalan illustrates in Unit4’s own story.

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Since the dawn of computing, businesses have relied on the deep technical knowledge of IT experts to help them improve how things ran. From the 1970s these experts have been chiefly sourced from outside the business, and outsourcing has been an attractive business strategy ever since, albeit with varying degrees of satisfaction.

But the trend I’m seeing quite actively in the market today is that this historical need for deep and varied technical IT skills — whether hired in or outsourced — is changing fast due to the proliferation of cloud technologies. The result is a totally new era for ‘IT skills’ where the speed at which businesses can move is now determined by a different type of person with an as-yet almost unrecognized set of skills.

An emerging skillset for cloud technologies

With more businesses in the cloud that have a mature level of good-practice business processes — today’s IT skills requirement is rapidly moving away from customization (coding) and infrastructure expertise.

There’s a rising need for deep knowledge of business processes, the ability to configure (rather than customize), and the skills to bring data together. In the same way, there’s an increasing need for people to manage the costs and value of cloud platforms rather than their technicalities.

To this end, businesses today need data scientists, data orchestrators, and business process experts — people who understand sales processes and marketing processes, for example, and how they interplay with each other. They need employees who know how to orchestrate end-to-end processes, such as lead-to-cash. They need experts who understand how data flows through a system, and who can help to make each process simpler, more efficient, and more effective by making it automated and standardized.

A fascinating journey for Unit4

After reviewing our own internal IT strategy, we discovered this as part of our own journey following the end of a reasonably successful five-year relationship with an outsourcer in 2020.

Because we had moved so much into the cloud, with their help, we realized the contractor was no longer selling what we needed: people with business process skills. They told us we needed to provide this expertise because it was our business. So, we said “okay,” and that’s what we did.

We terminated the contract in March 2020 and replaced the 100 highly technical people (previously provided by the outsourcer) by hiring 50 people with more business-oriented process skills and 20 people with deep technical skills (because we still needed some deep technical expertise).

It was a fascinating journey, and the pandemic played in our favor. We recruited business process experts from other industries that were faltering, like the airline sector, which had left many people redundant.

The benefits we experienced

We reduced our dedicated IT budget by 20-30% because we could simplify and standardize processes and depend on cloud products. We further enhanced our people experience (something we’re constantly working on through our products at Unit4), meaning our people are now even more free to add value to the business, rather than spending time on manual, repetitive tasks.

We increased our efficiency because, in this new reality, IT doesn’t get in the way of our business anymore — it’s no longer running the whole show alone; business and IT are running it together. This has made us even more agile as a business, again something we’re constantly working on with our products.

We also feel we are ready for the future because cloud providers bring their own innovation. We are now able to run our internal application landscape on a lower cost base than before, with the aim of continuing to simplify it ourselves using low-code/no-code and microservices.

Will this work for every business?

That was our experience. We were able to move to the cloud because we had a mature level of standardization across our business, with global processes for all our geographies and products, meaning we could constrain them to a uniform approach in the cloud.

But if you have slightly different ways of marketing and selling different products in different countries — what we call ‘snowflakes’ — you can’t bring it all together. In this case, outsourcing is perhaps still a better option because you still need these technical different skillsets.

The new skills challenge

While the cloud has made the IT world simpler for companies, it has also created a new talent challenge because these skillsets are not yet adequately acknowledged or accepted. It’s easy to advertise for an IT Engineer or CRM Specialist but try recruiting a General Business Process Specialist. It doesn’t exist yet as a formal resource pool, even though people do that.

But if you are open with your mindset, you can recruit people from various industries with transferable skills, from hospitality to airlines. Who knows, this trend may even create a new industry. Maybe some outsourcers will even specialize in that.

Watch our ‘Inside modern ERP: Enabling transformation in people and processes’ webinar.

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