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People first, then technology

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ICT companies continue to place a premium on recruiting the best skills available – and it should come as no surprise to discover just how significant the human resource has become in this sector. So claims Robert Sussman, joint MD at Integr8 IT, South Africa’s largest privately owned national BEE ICT network integration and infrastructure management specialist.

An investment in technology and infrastructure has to be aligned to the knowledge capital of an organisation Sussman argues. In other words solutions and product should accentuate the skills and collective acumen of the labour force behind a business.
This, he says, is an integral part of the trend to shape technology around the business and not the other way around.
The HR philosophy at the organisation run by Sussman is built around several key principles which include the need to create a learning organisation where knowledge is shared and retained, an open plan to ensure social interaction and the notion that problems do not age well.
“The calibre of people is a company’s most prized asset. ICT is an ultra-competitive sector and, contrary to what some may assume, it is not simply technology and the use thereof that differentiates one entity from another. In fact it is the skills, ability, efficiency and consistency of people that makes a difference,” says Sussman. “Challenges and issues that do arise need to be quickly addressed and sorted out because a lingering problem will quickly infect the rest of the organisation.”
Sussman acknowledges that changes that are taking place in terms of HR management in the workplace.
“It is refreshing to see a whole host of traditional practices flying out the proverbial ‘office window’!,” he quips. “Not least of which is the outdated practice of retaining knowledge at the top of the organisation and blocking all efforts to have the benefit of this expertise filter through to the rest of the organisation.”
But what should companies do with their skills base once they have been successfully inducted into the business?
Sussman believes that ICT skills are still considered a sought-after commodity within both the private- and public sector, and that companies realise the necessity in making the working environment as attractive as possible for employees.
“The historical approach of keeping someone tied to a desk from nine to five, with structured breaks and minimal interaction is long gone. The typical IT environment is professional and service-orientated but there are specific perks that are designed to make the employee feel part of the company and to ease the pressure,” he adds. “Anything from canteens through to rest and recreation areas now characterise the modern IT organisation.”
It is Sussman’s contention that the industry has, for some time now, placed emphasis on the retention of a skills base. This is partially due to the fact that IT has traditionally been known for its generally high employee turnover rate.
“There is no doubt that IT and its evolution into the information and communication technology space is accepted as a fluid sector. People tend to move in and out of positions, gain experience and then move on to other things. This is changing and there is a concerted effort among employers to keep skills in-house,” he continues.
However, according to Sussman, the competitive nature of ICT will ensure that those that do not change internally faster than the world changes externally, will become obsolete.
“The market has moved to hiring business people and training them in technology. It is the one consistency in securing competitive advantage and this advantage is no longer viewed upon like it used to be, it is the direct result of marrying three important silos of a company – culture, course and cast,” he adds.
Sussman is in agreement with the industry as far as a need for a more concerted effort to develop skills is concerned.
“We do run an internship program that continues to make a significant contribution towards this process. This program is designed to assist individuals by offering them practical, hands-on experience at various levels of operation. The idea is to train and empower people with the idea of having them remain on board with the company.
Additionally we regularly send our people on training and other knowledge building initiatives, both locally and overseas, to ensure that they have the very latest in globally established and endorsed information,” he adds.