Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Disappearing Differentiators: Searching for uniqueness across industries in today’s eerily similar technology landscape

I've received numerous calls and emails recently asking for my input on who to hire and how to hire for certain positions within IT. These positions range from CIO through Deputy CIO through director-, manager-, and staff-levels. There is certainly an uncertainty where people are thinking their gut is telling them one thing but their mind is saying another. In each instance, I'm aligning with 'gut' for most so I have to say, these days, follow your instinct people.

What does the bank say? ‘Ideally we’re looking for programmers with heavy finance experience.’

What does the university say? ‘A history working for large four-year public universities a plus.’

What does the corporation say? ‘Must have direct experience with a Fortune 500 company.’

What does technology say? ‘What? It’s 2015!’

A staple of job postings a decade ago from a ‘higher education technology’ standpoint included some inference to, if not outright requirement for, higher education experience. From a management, programming, network/infrastructure, service standpoint that request is currently far past its expiration date. It's helpful to have a working knowledge of the landscape prior to entry into higher education (because it simply 'is' different), however think about this.

Industry used to build technology in-house and from scratch.
No more. We’re using the cloud, vanilla versions of SaaS, more dashboards and easy interfaces to update data. We don’t need anyone understanding the unique university backup requirements or SAN structure. 

In technology we spent so much time veiled in a cloak of mystery with layers of intricacy and unique skillsets. 
Today I work for a phenomenal small, private, non-profit university in New England. I could just as easily pick up my bag of tricks and seamlessly transition to a public research institution boasting 40k headcount with ne’ery a roadbump. My current network director could easily take a position at an upscale PR firm on Fifth Avenue maintaining and building an infrastructure delivering 24/7 responsive access to millions of customers annually. My current administrative director could slide right into a lucrative hedge fund opportunity and simply switch out one type of user experience for another. (Note: I would cry as my leadership team is stellar. #backoff)

We all have walls, wiring, wireless, business units, HR, vacation days, email. If you replace a typical for-profit business's sales process with a university's student process, you practically split even. It's so very similar in structure.

All of this said, innovation is today’s differentiator. The stakes have risen well above industry-level to performance-, initiative-, integrative- and accessibility-levels. The bar has risen and talk of uniqueness is as outdated as a word processor. Remember that the next time you’re looking to expand your team or sell a project – technology now needs to immerse as opposed to distance, enable collaboration as opposed to architect silos and empower consensus from a diversely experienced group as opposed to a single-function business unit. Why? Eliminate redundancies in output and duplicative effort in the day-to-day. 

More than ever, within tech roles, as a hiring body, you need to find people apt to conceptualize, plan and execute. Do they possess the skills, the mindset to traverse change with confidence and drive? That’s who you hire today.