Watching Tesla recently unveil its new Model S Autopilot car made me think about how technology work has shifted from automating to creating.  Of course, this car is a nuts-and-bolts machine that owners can still drive with their own hands (and brains).  It took a software release, though, to unleash the power of that automobile–in this case, the sensors and self-driving features that have taken center stage for this luxury car.

Creating this car took collaboration across both business and IT people dreaming about what would be cool to drive and what could be possible to achieve.  How far IT has moved and how much more is required?  From there, my reverie took a right turn and arrived at insurance and how IT staffing has changed in that industry.

Until recently, the IT staffing model for the insurance industry, as with other financial services, was a rather simple one. You either hired people who had the tech skills you needed or you hired bright people and trained them.

In areas like Hartford, CT., with an abundance of insurance operations and a large, experienced workforce, insurers could easily find the skilled workers they needed by recruiting IT people from nearby competitors with a small raise, a few perks and sometimes a bounty for recruiting coworkers. To varying degrees, companies had their own training programs, always aware the staff they trained might shortly use those newly acquired skills to benefit a competitor.

When a company couldn’t find enough skilled workers or its employee hiring was frozen or its short-term needs spiked, it turned to agencies that supplied contract workers.

Today, insurers still have the options to hire, train and lease workers, but business moves faster, the stakes are higher, and they now need the right mix of workers with broader and more sophisticated skills. Becoming digital insurers requires it.

So how does a company assure it has enough of the right people?

It starts with the reinvigorated IT Operating Model I described in my last post.  Companies need to revamp their organizations’ capabilities in line with their new models, comparing their current workforce against the workforce they will need in the future.  They will undoubtedly find gaps and redundancies that must be addressed. That means they will have to retrain many skilled workers within the organization—Accenture research shows high performers are seven times as likely as other organizations to invest in new technology skills development–and work hard to attract others.

The need for more and different workplace skills has been apparent to ambitious employees, and happily, a sizeable portion of workers is already doing its part to get ready for the future.  Recent employee research by Accenture Strategy shows that 62 percent of employees already are assessing the skills they will need for the future, including digital skills, ideation, emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate ideas; while 64 percent of employees are seeking out learning opportunities. Savvy organizations are piggybacking on this by creating the right support environment for workers to master the skills they will need.

Insurers also will have to continue to court young and midcareer people who have STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, as well as some of the critical skills, especially problem-solving and communications. While only 2 percent of graduates in Accenture’s US College Graduate Employment Survey say they are interested in a career in insurance, the industry actually offers the types of opportunities that interest them.  By focusing on the interesting and challenging work within the industry and on the value it brings to people’s lives, insurers can overcome the industry’s staid image and attract idealistic and tech-savvy recent college graduates.

Then there’s crowdsourcing. Agile organizations that want the ability to rapidly scale up or down have often looked beyond their own employees for resources. The recent rise of crowdsourcing ecosystems, though, has brought this to a whole new level by allowing organizations to fill a particular need with the best available individuals or groups anywhere. Crowdsourcing provides access to a vast, worldwide supply of talent and often results in lower costs, high or higher quality of work than can be done internally, as well as faster delivery time.

Collaboration is another hallmark of the effective IT workforce, whether it is working collaboratively on projects that cross traditional business and skillsor coming up with ways to allow secure employee collaboration anytime and anywhere.  Collaboration obviously brings more ideas and skills to an immediate project, but it also extends the knowledge and broadens skills of those who participate–an important gain.

To compete in the digital economy, insurers need a creative, highly skilled IT workforce that extends beyond understanding the logic and use of technologies.  More and more, these workers are called upon to develop ideas, communicate them, analyze them, and even build a prototype to test them; and more importantly tie the output to the business objectives.

Like in the auto industry…

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