Many of us are asking how much the future work environment of managing information will be hinged on critical new specialties – like analytics or metadata – versus a broad set of skills supported by automated technologies.
What's obvious right now is that a shortage of skills in specific areas needs to be filled by worthy individuals, but over time you can't expect to get by on one skill alone. In other words, find a good job opening in analytics or metadata and prosper for the next five years, but don't expect it to be a 30-year career.
Don't expect anything in the professional information landscape to be a 30-year career.
With few exceptions in the information marketplace, the pure specialist might be dead. Creating something brilliant we can't sell (or explain clearly to someone else who can) is the foregone failure Malcolm Gladwell was all over in his book Outliers. Just look around the workplace and contemplate for yourself the skills of your peers that are not rounded out. These missing parts, unfairly or not, are coming to define the have-nots in the professional marketplace.
If we step away from our fixation on managing the data glut and look at the environmental conditions and atmospherics of the way we work, we might see a different answer. That's what I was hoping for in our conversation yesterday on DM Radio Special Edition, and I got more than I bargained for. It's a broadcast worth checking out, a preview of our 25 Top Information Manager event in New York next week.
We had guests there I know and admire from our Top 25 list, Michael Linhares, who heads up BIS at Pfizer, Barbara Latulippe, enterprise data architect at Smith & Nephew, Andrea Ballinger AVP at Illinois State University and Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester Research.
We took this hour to throw technology out the window and focus on the workplace and how that has changed and will continue to change. Not for the first time, much of what is apparent in the demand for talent is the ability to navigate multiple disciplines and social skills.
Ballinger's work at the University of Illinois and Illinois State has been the equivalent of running data management for an entire city complete with fire departments, hospitals, city hall and a populace. She's looked at the question of embedded analytics versus personal skills that put them to work. She asked the dean at the school of business at ISU if there was a way to train up her staff in analytic proficiency.
"He said they had thought about creating a series of courses to teach analytical skills but they learned through research that you have to bring analytical skill problem solving to every subject matter you are in," she told me. "People need those skills almost in an innate manner, knowing how to do a cost/benefit analysis is just a byproduct of all this."
In other words, Andrea says, everyday experience and knowing how to dissect a problem, look for opportunities and weigh in on value versus effort is what's in demand.
Michael Linhares from Pfizer took this a step further to say that, despite our obsession on core business expertise, 90 percent of what we do might be interchangeable in another setting.
Linhares related a gathering with some managers from BP where he talked about developing architectures and frameworks and systems for sharing information around drug compounds. "Well, the guys from BP were developing integrated systems for sharing information around wells. We were talking about the exact same problems and solutions, the only thing different was that I was talking about a compound and he was talking about a well. The skill set is transferable from one organization to another if you understand things conceptually."
Barbara Latullipe had raised the word "conceptual" as a required thinking skill for future information workers and to me, conceptual is pretty much the anti-IT.
We had a laugh over that, but Clay Richardson affirmed the shift, not only from functional silos, but from failures in master data silos, process silos and whatever else you have. "It's getting away from that technology or operational standpoint and more toward process thinking across areas and bringing the pieces together."
I know Clay as a serious process advocate from way back, but he's also an open-minded thinker who encouraged me when he said the trend might actually be easier -- and not a barrier to entry -- for the next generation of information workers.
Here's what Clay said. "In a lot of ways the millenials have an attention deficit and that's actually an asset compared to those of us that have one thing in front of us we're focused on. You need to multitask five things and make sense of it all in context."
It suggests what may be the real underpinning of the social movement in business not as a networking movement as much as a means of constructive collaboration supported by a lot of tools and technology.
It's the boundary spanning or whatever you want to call the toolset of success, and it's not grounded in superflous knowledge in any one single domain. "Having the ability to straddle both the business and the specialty ... the people who can manage the white space can shift from business to business to business quite well."
If I don't see you at our summit next week in New York I certainly hope you'll add your comments here as we look for ways to broaden the community of discussion.