Respondents surveyed in Dec 2019 were already feeling the pressure of insufficient manpower, converged roles and need for soft skills.

As the various siloed functions of IT divisions get converged due to digitalization campaigns and tightened budget allocations, tech professionals are starting to set their sights on non-technical and interpersonal skills to improve teamwork and communication with business leaders.

Additionally, skills development is needed across both technical and non-technical areas to boost the supply of qualified IT professionals.

These are some of the findings of an annual trend report by IT management software company SolarWinds before the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent pandemic.

As cloud computing continues to grow, tech pros say they are increasingly prioritizing areas like hybrid infrastructure management, application performance management (APM), and security management to optimize delivery for the organizations they serve.

Top three influencing organizations’ staffing needs

What the Pre-COVID-19 report shows

The study unveiled some notable trends:

  1. Tech pros are focusing less on emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI) and edge, and more on hybrid IT and security.

    The top three technologies influencing organizations’ staffing needs (by weighted rank) were: Cloud computing (i.e., SaaS, IaaS, PaaS) (46%); Security and compliance (37%); and Hybrid IT (29%). Only a collective 34% named emerging technologies such as AI, edge, microservices, and containers, as the biggest influence on staffing needs.

    Nearly three-quarters (70%) indicated their organizations’ tech budgets allocated less than 25% of their spending to emerging technologies.
  2. As tech pro roles and siloes converge, work complexities are exacerbated by flat to shrinking budgets and a lack of qualified personnel.

    With the convergence of technologies and responsibilities, the top three ways tech pro roles have changed over the past three to five years are:

    • Need to retrain existing staff (44%)
    • allocated additional non-IT responsibilities (i.e., presentation skills, public speaking, business writing/planning, justification of time/budget) (35%)
    • increased work week hours (33%).

    At the same time, tech pros were experiencing barriers to successfully supporting their organizations, including: Lack of budget/resources (34%); unclear or shifting priorities (21%); currently offered IT management/solutions lack features/functionality to meet career needs (15%).

    Additionally, nearly half (44%) of respondents believed tech pros entering the workforce today do not have the necessary skills to manage modern, distributed IT environments—outnumbering those who believed they possess the skills (31%).
  3. Many personnel and skills issues were related to growing areas like APM and security and compliance.

    Some 64% of tech pros/teams/IT departments were spending more time managing apps and services rather than infrastructure and hardware. This represents a monumental shift in the strategic importance of applications to the modern business. According to Gartner, this trend will likely to continue to rise: by 2022, as much as 60% of organizations will use an external service provider’s cloud managed service offering, doubling the 2018 figure. Gartner also predicted at the time, the ongoing effect on skills: by 2020, 75% of enterprises will experience visible business disruptions due to infrastructure and operations (I&O) skills gaps, which is an increase from less than 20% in 2016.

    When organizations adopt cloud and/or SaaS technologies, 63% use log analytics, 54% use network traffic analysis/network app analysis, and 53% use user experience monitoring as their top three approaches. When it comes to APM tools, 52% use a mix of native tools (provided by the cloud service provider) and third-party tools. More complexity equals more APM: as business size increases, so does the percentage of tech pros indicating they used network traffic analysis/network app analysis to gain visibility. A larger percentage of enterprise tech pros used log analytics (80%) as an approach compared to their small and mid-size counterparts.

    For 77% of tech pros, at least 10% of their daily responsibilities included IT security management. At the same time, the top three areas of security skills management tech pro organizations were prioritizing for development included (by weighted rank):
    • Security information and event management (SIEM) (36%)
    • Network security (33%)
    • Backup and recovery (25%)
  4. Similar to the way the universal language of IT has affected IT departments, compliance policies have resulted in 45% of tech pros adding additional IT staff.

    Compliance policies with the greatest effect on IT departments included:
    • GDPR (61%)
    • RMF (29%)
    • PCI DSS (18%)
  5. Tech pros need to develop nontechnical skills to operate within the new IT reality where cross-functional and business-level communication is necessary.

    The non-technical skills tech pros felt are most critical to successfully manage today’s modern IT environments included:
    • Risk assessment (48%)
    • People management (58%)
    • Interpersonal communication (47%)
      1. These results are echoed other surveys that revealed the top skills needed for digital transformation were strategy building (40%), project management (32%), and business relationship management (25%). These critical interpersonal skills become more important as tech pros increasingly communicate and collaborate across previously siloed IT functions.
      2. According to the LinkedIn2020 Emerging Jobs Report, the demand for soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity will continue to rise across the SaaS industry. Despite the budget and skills issues tech pros reported, 89% of surveyed tech pros said they were comfortable communicating with business leadership when requesting technology purchases, investing time/budget into team trainings, and the like.

Despite the budget and skills issues tech pros reported, 89% of surveyed tech pros said they were comfortable communicating with business leadership when requesting technology purchases, investing time/budget into team trainings, and the like.

Said Joe Kim, executive vice president and global chief technology officer, SolarWinds: “For years we’ve been talking about hybrid IT and what it means for tech pros; (now) we see the effects of hybrid IT in breaking down traditional siloes and bringing core competencies across on-premises and cloud environments together. Especially now, when organizations worldwide are facing new challenges and uncertainty, we must take this reality seriously, focusing on skills development and readiness in key areas like security, cloud infrastructure, and application monitoring.”

While IT continues to be a main driver of business importance, tech pros have an opportunity to help reassure the business and focus on effectively communicating performance now and into the future. “More than ever before, technology professionals must work alongside business leaders to meet organizational goals while also investing time and energy into cultivating the necessary skills to drive business success,” added Kim.