Former CIO fights skills shortage with 'grey army'

Former CIO fights skills shortage with 'grey army'

Older workers more loyal, less error prone

Tim Cope

Tim Cope

To combat a “chronic” skills shortage, CIOs should look to engage more independent, middle-aged contractors who, while wanting to work on their own terms, are good value and don’t come with the artificial demands of Gen-Y workers, says a former CIO turned consultant.

Tim Cope was CIO at the University of NSW in Sydney for nearly seven years before accepting a director role at IT management consulting firm Costs Down Revenue Up.

“We don’t need a mission statement as our title says it all,” Cope said. “We work with large enterprises on how to manage IT to achieve cost reduction and improve revenue.”

CDRU has about 20 staff, but engages with 10 to 15 independent contractors to fill skill shortages as needed.

Cope said there is a vibrant community of experienced IT professionals over the age of 40 who have opted for independent careers due to layoffs or wanting more freedom.

“When I interview people, the first thing I ask them is what the biggest mistake of their career has been and if I get an honest answer they progress forward,” he said.

Cope believes there is a “chronic” skills shortage of IT business professionals and being more flexible by engaging with experienced, independent workers can pay off.

Unlike younger workers, the “grey army” tend to be more loyal by “not wanting a promotion every 18 months” and Cope says since they have already made mistakes, they are less likely to make them again.

“There are quite a few people available that fit this criteria,” he said. “For example, one of my contractors also operates a small business in Bathurst (NSW).”

Cope said after years of being on the buying side of IT you buy input, but you still have the challenge of driving down costs.

“When we engage with clients, we want to determine the best outcome and share the success,” he said. “We use all the facets of a standard consulting firm, but in different ways.”

CDRU shares the success of its clients with a percentage of the savings or a bonus and subscribes to the general “no benefit, no fee” mantra.

“IT is a significant expense line for most firms and many CIOs are very highly technology focused while some are pioneers,” Cope said. “There are almost always areas where companies spend too much on IT in some areas and not enough in others.”

CDRU is not a systems integrator in the traditional sense, but it has higher-order skills like program management.

“We do any work critical to managing the business case,” he said. “If you are prepared to take on change that is good, but if you are prepared to share the risk that is a greater proposition.”

“As a CIO I always wanted to share risk with the supplier. Companies spend millions of dollars on consulting every year and the outcomes are unclear.”

Cope admits it can be difficult to know what the payback of consulting work is, but says in future the industry will have to do more of this to survive.

“I’m sure we’re not the only one. Business pressure on IT will necessitate the CIO to build capabilities that can be used in the right way,” he said.

“IT is still wrestling with problems it has had for 20 years.”

Rodney Gedda is Deputy Editor of CIO Australia. Follow Rodney on Twitter at @rodneygedda. Rodney's e-mail address is Follow CIO Australia on Twitter at @CIO_Australia.

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