How to address the skills shortage holding back IT in SA

The world is on the verge of a fourth industrial revolution based on fields like Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) but South Africa, like many other countries, is battling to find the matching human expertise.

This is according to Gary Allemann, MD at Master Data Management, who believes that the revolution will impact local businesses in four major ways. Namely, customer expectations, product enhancement, collaborative innovation and organisational structures.

“The commercial world is being restructured with the customer at its centre,” said Allemann.

“We’re in the process of creating a whole new world of customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, which require new forms of collaboration.”

“In short, the inevitable progression from simple digitisation (the Third Industrial Revolution) to innovation based on combinations of technologies (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is forcing organisations to re-think everything when it comes to doing business.”

Allemann noted that South African businesses were battling to leverage these disciplines as the skills just do not currently exist. Specifically, he noted issues in finding people with practical experience, as new graduates lack the knowledge and expertise to really apply theoretical knowledge in a business context.

“This means organisations have to create their own experts and will need to look at ‘upskilling’ existing IT and business staff to make them more data-savvy,” said Allemann

“A good place to start when creating data management experts, is with qualifications like the Certified Information Management Professional (CIMP). However, qualifications take time, and while developing skills in this arena, it’s important to provision technologies that are user-friendly, intuitive and easy to learn.”

Alleman believes that viable candidates from within the organisation need to be identified for upskilling, and that while vendor-specific training is important – the resulting skill set is product-based which means that individuals still lack the business intelligence required to effectively apply their knowledge.

“In this regard, e-learning facilities can help bridge the skills gap, as well as create a common language across the organisation,” he said.

Going local

One of the biggest ways this upskilling and skills shortage can be addressed is building these types of competencies in South Africa, rather than outsourcing, Alleman said.

This is because while a country such as India may offer a cheaper option, in the long term this will become unsustainable due to language barriers and cultural differences.

“Data sourced and used in South Africa has unique complexities linked to geography, culture and language use, as well the laws of the land. Intricacies that a remote consultant in another location with a different cultural background will not comprehend,” he said.

“This highlights a clear need for organisations that are hungry for data management experts to start their own internship programmes, and build on their own resources internally through upskilling.”

“It is possible for an individual with four to five years of business operations experience to be provided with the training to become a data steward, or to perform data analytics tasks with a view to learning how to perform business analytics.”

Read: Seacom in high-speed fibre push for Joburg

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How to address the skills shortage holding back IT in SA