Skills shortages frustrating the pace of change for retailers

Upskilling staff and outsourcing IT responsibilities should be key priorities for retailers looking to remain ahead of the game

New research commissioned by Claranet has discovered that skills shortages in the retail sector are making it difficult for IT departments to play their part in driving innovation and helping their business achieve competitive advantage. The results from the research highlight the need for retailers to address these deficiencies by upskilling their IT staff and outsourcing areas of their IT estates to be able to focus on their core objectives.

The research, which was conducted by Vanson Bourne and surveyed 121 retailers from across Europe, found that while IT departments clearly recognise their central role in supporting wider business objectives and driving organisational change, skills shortages are limiting their potential. 36 per cent of respondents, for example, consider enabling business agility a key objective for the IT department and a further 30 per cent identified assisting revenue generation for the wider business as a top priority.

However, the research found that a significant proportion of retailers are being hamstrung by a lack of available skills within their organisations. 25 per cent stated that skills shortages were the biggest challenge facing the IT department, 30 per cent reported that skills shortages were a main barrier to wide-scale technology change within the business, and almost half (48 per cent) cited a general shortage of digital skills across the entire organisation.

Commenting on the findings, Michel Robert, CEO at Claranet UK, said:

The retail world is transforming dramatically because customers’ behaviour is radically changing, and to keep pace retailers need to rapidly adopt new ways of servicing their customers. The retailers that are winning in their markets today are the ones that are skilfully harnessing the power of new technologies to achieve competitive advantage. But while it’s encouraging that IT departments in the retail sector recognise their leading role supporting business change, it’s clear that they’re struggling to keep up."

IT leaders in the sector face a broad range of challenges – from a lack of executive support to budget limitations – but it’s arguably skills shortages, both in the IT department and the wider business, that are the most crippling. Skills and staffing are essential if the IT department is to shed its cost centre image and drive the business forward. With demand for often-niche digital and technical skills increasing, CIOs in the retail sector will need to think carefully about which skills they need to foster internally and which they should look to access through third parties.”

Michel Robert believes that, to help tackle this problem, retailers should focus their efforts on upskilling their current IT workforce in the areas where they can add the most value.

In such a fast-paced industry, it makes absolute business sense for retailers to outsource everything they possibly can, so that their staff can focus 100% of their efforts on core business objectives. Nowhere is this truer than with IT infrastructure, and while reliable infrastructure is critical for every organisation, maintaining the skills in-house to achieve that adds absolutely no business value. By outsourcing infrastructure management to trusted third parties, retailers can spend less time keeping the lights on and more time cultivating the digital skills needed to improve the performance of their applications and drive innovation."

The figures quoted in this release are from Claranet’s 2017/18 Market Research Report – Beyond Digital Transformation, which will be published later this month