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Skills shortage makes intelligent automation essential

By KATE MOLLETT, regional manager for Africa at Veeam

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The days of trying to convince the C-suite of the imperative of a comprehensive digitalisation roadmap are well and truly over. There doesn’t appear to be a CEO in the world who doesn’t appreciate the immense value, efficiencies and competitiveness that can be unlocked by fully harnessing the power of the fourth industrial revolution.

Of massive concern, however, is that while almost all CEOs in the world agree that digital advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will change their industries, most of them aren’t confident that their workforce is futureproofed with the right skills to manage data effectively and unlock the kinds of value through efficiency and insights that they need.

According to the 22nd annual PWC Global CEO Survey, 55% of CEOs are “extremely concerned” about the availability of key skills related to the effective use of data. In fact, in an article published by PwC’s Digital Pulse in January, it stated that “CEOs believe they lack the talent needed to make use of data. This is a significant problem, because the majority also agree that technology such as AI, which relies on robust data, will completely transform the business world in the coming years”.

Turning the lens more closely to home, according to PwC, 33% of South African CEOs said they were “extremely concerned” about the availability of key skills, while 38% – which is markedly higher than the 30% globally – cited cyber threats as an area of concern. Also, again higher than their global counterparts, 38% of South African CEOs – compared to a global average of 28% – highlighted the speed of technological change as a business concern.

This is complicated by the fact that businesses in the digital economy are more reliant on their digital infrastructure than they have been at any point in history. While business, globally, has never been more technologically advanced and employees have never had the array of devices and platforms at their disposal that they do now, many organisations are utterly dependent on their information technology (IT) systems.

Digital considerations such as Cloud Data Management are absolutely fundamental in ensuring data availability, security and compliance in a modern, intelligent business. Cloud Data Management refers to the highly complex management of data across an organisation’s entire cloud and data management provision, bringing together aspects such as backup, replication and disaster recovery.

From our perspective, on the continent and in South Africa, the general IT skills gap does impact business decisions on these crucial digital investments. This has knock-on effects for the enterprise because the inevitable delay directly affects the overall business competitiveness and ability to deliver products and services to market.

There is no doubt that the world generally, and South Africa specifically, needs a concerted effort, from both the public and private sector, to address the skills shortage.

That being said, in the interim, where skills will remain a challenge in the foreseeable future, the C-suite still needs to be able to make effective business decisions. Collecting, managing and backing up data, in an always-on environment where availability is a fundamental pillar of business competitiveness, is no longer a luxury.

In South Africa, where IT skills are few and sought-after, the answer lies in intelligent, automated software that ticks a vast array of boxes previously thought out of reach due to the skills gap.

In other words, CEOs need to know that there is enough automation and intelligence built inherently into their technology providers’ platforms and instead of a resource-hungry environment that requires a large team of experts that are in short supply and expensive, you have the opportunity to drastically reduce the number of experts originally required.

It can also be argued that by seeing the advantages that truly smart digital solutions bring to the table, organisations are able to unlock other business benefits.

There will always be a need for specialist, technical skills and expertise, and it is crucial that the next generation of employees – who were all born into a digital world – are encouraged and incentivised to pursue careers in IT, engineering, analytics and programming.

The impact of intelligent software, such as a fully automated and intelligent Cloud Data Management platform, will be profound in the freeing up of workloads that previously took up a lot of “man hours” in organisations.

This means that IT personnel may well be freed up to take on more strategic roles in an organisation, such as resource planning and investment strategy. Reskilling these employees with management and communication skills may well lead to a workforce with better business acumen.

The skills shortage is a challenge that will be here for the foreseeable future. However, technology has opened the door for businesses to maximise the effectiveness of their resource pool all the while moving ahead with the fourth industrial revolution rather than being left behind.

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