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When it comes to developing a successful IT strategy, products, services and vendors can only do so much. If you don't have the right people in place to bring all those elements together and help to evolve your processes in the future, it's unlikely your IT strategy will ever get off the ground.

Unfortunately, the growing IT skills gap makes it increasingly difficult for CIOs to staff their IT departments with the necessary talent. Furthermore, for those who are able to fill all their job vacancies, the 2018 CIO Gartner agenda reports that challenges around culture and people continue to hamper efforts to deliver digital transformation.

Here, we outline four best practices to help CIOs overcome these challenges and build the best possible technology team.

Embrace emerging technology

Your business can't be an early adopter of every emerging technology and in truth, some scepticism and a healthy amount of research before you jump on the latest bandwagon makes good business sense.

However, that doesn't mean you should sit back and watch every trend pass you by. If something excites you, talk to your team. Is there a business case for investing in the technology? How would it benefit your IT strategy? What value will it bring to the organisation?

BP's chief digital innovation officer, Morag Watson, has already overseen the adoption of technologies such as robotics and augmented intelligence and is excited about the opportunities quantum and cognitive computing could afford the company in the future.

"Normally, we invest to either accelerate a technology, because without our investment it wouldn't get to the use case that we could see for it, or because it would give us some business competitive advantage," she told CIO UK.

When cloud computing first emerged, many organisations were reluctant to adopt the technology because of security concerns. While it's right you should exercise some level of caution about emerging tech, if you shun everything not only will your organisation be outpaced by peers but your IT department will be severely lacking in experience and skills.

Upskill your current employees

According to data gathered from 2019 CIO 100, 77 percent of CIOs are finding it difficult to recruit the talent they need to drive transformation. Unsurprisingly, the struggle to fill job vacancies has left CIOs thinking outside the box to help find the talent they need, with many CIOs now using IT apprenticeships or upskilling their current workforce to meet departmental needs.

"Very often it's easier to upskill them into new technologies and even new languages, rather than bringing in people who have the languages and teaching them about the business and data within the people," says Southern Water CDO, Peter Jackson.

Upskilling your current employees doesn't have to be costly or time consuming. A whole of online courses and certifications exist that can help your employees build on everything from their cybersecurity skills, to their coding proficiency or knowledge of full-stack development. Not only will this help to benefit your business, it will boost your employees' morale and they will be more likely to remain in the company if they feel the firm is invested in their professional development.

David Henderson, director of technology and operations at Global Radio embarked on a project to upskill his workers. The result was a confident technology and IT unit that is trusted by the rest of the organisation.

"In general, the team are just a lot more capable; the execution is outstanding," Henderson said. "This transformation has been pretty much on time, on budget. We've done everything we said we would and now our business trusts we can do that."

Develop a culture of quality

Your technology team should come into work every day wanting to do the best possible job they can. Therefore, as the CIO, you need to ensure you provide them with an environment which allows them to do that. If your employees are overworked and under-resourced, they're going to look for jobs where the work they do and their contribution as an individual is valued.

Good Energy's CTO, David Ivell explained how he's building a workplace culture where employees feel like they're given the right technology and support to help them achieve success.

"We measure people by their output and quality of the work they do, not the amount of time that they sit at their desk," he told CIO UK.

Whether your team is working on a small project, is up against a tight deadline or has been given a significant budget to develop something new, it's important that you ensure they approach each one with the same enthusiasm and desire for quality.  

Be diverse

The more diverse your organisation is, the more successful it will be. Even in the face of the IT skills gap, there's no excuse not to have a diverse technology team – if it's something you care about, you'll be able to make it happen.

As the next generation enters the workforce, it's been shown that they look at things slightly differently than many of their predecessors. While they still value competitive salaries and good work benefits, many young people also prioritise working environments that have a diverse, supportive culture.

"There's lots of evidence that teams are more balanced and more diverse in nature perform much better," says Theirry Bedos, CTO at Hotels.com. "They bring better innovation to the customers out there… we need to bring more women to our teams to understand that and to design products that women will love and that will be useful for them.”

No two people are ever the same but if you build a team consisting of people who all grew up in a similar environment, were educated in similar institutions and hold the same values, your technology team is never going to be the envy of your competitors. Diversity brings together different ways of thinking and new ways of thinking about and experiencing technology.

Former United Utilities CIO, William Hewish, has been increasing the diversity of his workforce through unconscious bias training and other initiatives, and has already started to see the benefits.

"You get different ideas," Hewish said. "You get different dynamics within the teams which are more creative and bouncing ideas off each other because people are coming from different perspectives."