CIONEXT: The lack of digital tech talent is an existential threat to business growth and innovation

Published by Monika Rebala
November 09, 2022 @ 12:44 PM

On October 26, CIONET hosted the 14th edition of its flagship conference CIONEXT titled “Navigating the perfect storm”,  where we discussed how to emerge strengthened from a confluence of crises: geopolitical instability, financial turmoil, energy and supply chain crisis, and global talent shortage.

We also celebrated the accomplishments of digital leaders and announced the winners of our prestigious European Digital Leader of the Year Awards 2023 in the Finance & Government categories:

The conference was moderated by Hendrik Deckers, founding father and MD of CIONET, and Nils Fonstad, Research Scientist at MIT CISR, and featured a panel of great speakers - EDLOTY Awards winners and finalists:

The biggest storm of all storms - IT talent shortage

Despite growing recession fears and surging inflation, the tech sector is facing a fight for the top candidates. The digital talent shortage is the biggest crisis for almost all our finalists, especially those working in the government sector, who can’t compete on salaries with big tech giants. Just to give one example: there are 3,000 vacancies in IT in the Dutch central administration.

The CIOs realise that the lack of digital tech talent is an existential threat to business growth and innovation. According to a recently published Digital Leadership Report, conducted by Nash Squared and CIONET, 70% of digital leaders - the highest number ever recorded - state that a skills shortage prevents them from keeping up with the pace of change. 62% think that organisations will never have enough technology staff and a similar number (60%) feel that the rising cost of living has made salary demands unsustainable.

So how to attract more people into IT? Paradoxically, the upcoming recession and layoffs could be a help, according to our panellists. “The recession could be an opportunity to retrain and re-educate people,” says Lourens, CIO at the Dutch Central Government.

Jan Dobbenie, CIO of VDAB, the public employment service of Flanders is going further: he is using AI and machine learning to predict changes on the job market long before they actually occur.

Today we have new jobs and functions that did not even exist five years ago. We need to learn how to manage careers, not just unemployed people. We need to work with all citizens to find good jobs for them, reskill and educate them, says Jan.

Panellists also agreed that automation and no-code / low-code could be part of the solution. For instance, Raul, Managing Director at Agencia Digital de Andalucía, has built a centre for intelligent automation which helps to get rid of manual, boring tasks. 

Yet, as Paolo, CTO at Dipartimento per la Trasformazione Digitale, noted, we need digitally skilled people who can do the automation and we are not going to find them quickly. We need a better education system, better policies, and money.

Navigating Budgets

Speaking of money - all our panellists admitted that their long-term business goals will not change because of the upcoming recession. Yet, at the same time, they are not expecting their IT budget to go up. 

Leaders believe that at some point this could be even an advantage.

Sometimes I am a bit in favour of having a shortage of money because it makes you fight for the right activities. If you have too much you might spend on certain activities that are not 100 percent necessary.  So a crisis gives you a natural push to make sure you do the right things. I expect that during the crisis that pressure comes, says Axel Schell, CTO at Allianz Technology.

Johan, Head of Information Security International at BNY Mellon, believes that trimming down the IT landscape can be a push to invest in new business needs. Further strengthening security posture is the top priority for all digital leaders.

Geopolitical Instability

Recent events on the international stage, including the war of Ukraine and the escalating tension between the U.S. and China over Taiwan, have centred geopolitical instability as one of the major concerns for CIOs.

But it is not just about cybersecurity. Energy markets and policies have drastically changed as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Energy bills are soaring, and this means that the costs of IT operations and the cost of IT suppliers are also rising. And all this has an effect on the total cost CIOs spend on IT.

For example, Piotr Słomianny's water supply and wastewater sector has been strongly affected by the energy crisis, as the water and wastewater treatment processes are consuming a lot of energy.

60 percent of our variable cost is the cost of energy. High energy costs also affected our supplier of chemicals we use in our production processes. This resulted in an increase in material prices much more above inflation. At the same time, water prices have remained unchanged due to state regulatory decisions, he says.

Lourens foresees that the energy crisis could again change the way we work. Companies are reducing their office space, but If the energy prices get  higher, people might want to go to the office instead of working from home where they have to pay their own energy bills.

As Sławomir Soszynski, CIO at ING Poland, noted, the war in Ukraine has also strongly affected global supply chains. The possible conflict over Taiwan could have even a bigger impact. “If something happens in Taiwan, which dominates the world’s supply of computer chips, the whole world will stop,” he says.

On the other hand, Piotr believes deglobalization and production coming back to Europe may have a positive effect on the continent’s economy. Johan foresees that consumers will also focus more on local experience - they would like to go back to physical social interactions again instead of just sharing digital content.

Leaders with digital skills

What is the role of leadership in this perfect storm that we are experiencing?

Johan believes that qualities of a good leader are constant over time, and these are: humbleness, authenticity, courage and trust. “But exceptional circumstances create exceptional leaders. You need more of those characteristics when the times get more difficult,” he says.

Natasha, Head of Infrastructure and Information Security at Allianz Technology, believes that a good leader needs to act fast but sometimes needs to stop and think.

Doing too many changes at the same time might not be really efficient. That’s why CIONET’s role is so important, because it provides a platform for digital leaders to share their knowledge, she says.

Jan noted that we should not talk about digital leaders but leaders with digital skills, 

Everyone would have to possess these digital skills in the future, he says.


The winners in the B2B and B2C categories will be announced at CIONEXT on the 1st of February 2023. Visit our website and follow us on Linkedin to get more updates. 

WATCH the LDD interviews with the EDLOTY Awards Finalists:



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