Our scalability of expertise: what IT demands when talent is rare

Small Erik Jan Kool 6720
Erik-Jan Kool
Jul 05, 2022 · 9 min read
Expertise spiegel 122 BE

Worldwide the labor market is undergoing major, largely pandemic-precipitated, changes such as the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, digital nomadhood, and surges in startups. Yet, as many people readily leave corporate culture, go independent, and/or change careers, many companies urgently need talented workers.

Experienced talent has always been a rare find, though the digital revolution is intensifying the scarcity. In fact, the quest for tech talent has grown exponentially because the need for digital products and data-driven services has grown exponentially. Any faltering of digital technology can now bring society to a halt. Hence, the booming demand for mission-critical IT and all the engineers, data scientists, and business analysts who enable it.

Meanwhile, we’re also witnessing how many talented workers are stuck in a corporate framework that doesn’t do justice to their talents and forces them to grin and bear their way through rules and conventions. These individuals have creativity and problem-solving skills that get stifled in siloed organizations. In these situations, experts are unable to make decisions, especially when such decisions benefit from interdisciplinary expertise and interdepartmental cooperation. For example, an enterprise architect might have the right solution in mind, but no seat at the table to convey the idea to stakeholders, much less execute it. Instead, that architect would have to tell a domain architect to tell a solution architect to tell the lead engineer to tell the developers exactly what to do. By the time the developers start tapping on their keyboards, time, hourly wages, and a lot of information have been lost along the way, while the enterprise architect must turn attention elsewhere. In other words, these talented individuals don’t feel they can make a difference at work or, ultimately, make a real impact on society.

But what if things could be done differently?

Uniting and empowering experts

From day one, our company chose to define only one KPI: 100% customer satisfaction. We did this by organizing ourselves into multidisciplinary dedicated customer teams, teams whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts – that is, whose expertise as a group exceeds the tallied knowledge of its individual experts. This arrangement has always been logical because working in a close-knit unit permits us to provide the best service we can to customers and deliver on our only KPI. As we regularly state, we put experts in the lead. Because why would you call in an expert at the last minute, only after exhausting all your other resources (human, financial, or otherwise)? Why not have an expert on the job the moment a solution buds from an idea into a project rather than waiting until it has turned into a problem?

Since we work closely with our customers, our teams comprise both our own experts and their experts working side by side. So, while we have a spectrum of specialists, our customers have their own smart, skilled workers who know their companies and industries more intimately than we do. Moreover, all the experts learn to cross over into each other’s technical domains, absorb and disperse knowledge, and release new insights into the feedback loop. The impact then becomes richer, more multidimensional, and ultimately closer to that 100%. By implication, we share both the freedom of decision-making and the responsibility of our choices. This model has proven to be a successful response to complex customer situations that demand speed, stability, and change.

“Multidisciplinary customer teams, whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Moreover, customer teams enable us to do a lot with fewer people. Our company is relatively small. In 2021, we hovered around 400 colleagues, and while we’re always open to new recruits, our goal isn’t to swell our headcount. The experts we hire tend to be highly self-driven, thrive working in self-steering teams, and instinctively incorporate the greater good into their own pursuit of happiness. This combination of character traits creates teams that allow us to scale our expertise up and out – and do so effectively and enjoyably.

Serving the business

Over 20 years ago, Schuberg Philis began with a focus on what, looking back, we could call traditional IT outsourcing. However, we never followed the bodyshopping service provision model. That didn’t make sense for a synergistic relationship in which we seek the best fit-for-purpose solution for a customer. As an example: we always look for ways to implement automation because that’s a more efficient and often more accurate way to work; we’re not incentivized to spend more hours having humans do something machines can do. Instead, our agreements are a fixed promise at a fixed price for fixed results; then we do everything necessary to achieve them even if the budgeted hours exceed the bottom-line budget. The hybridity of our customer teams is conducive to fostering long-term profound relationships, encouraging all the experts to keep dedicated to a project until its completion.

What’s more, we’ve moved up the stack in terms of what our teams can offer customers. Today our experts comprise engineers who specialize in software, cloud, architecture, data, frontend systems, and backend systems as well as business consultants, functional business analysts, data scientists, and more. Many of our projects nowadays thus include functional deliverables, such as those entailed in software development, data analytics, and consulting. Our efforts are being publicly recognized too. Giarte’s IT Xperience Monitor gave us the highest rating in the top 5 ranking for software services satisfaction in 2021, our first year entering this category.

But it’s not just about the tech itself. We’re preoccupied with how the tech fits within the many interconnected systems that serve the business. When we speak of results, we mean more than an IT solution; we mean the business solution. Across industries, more and more companies are coming to understand that good IT and good business are mutually reinforcing. In addition, organizations want to enhance the quality and the breadth of their digital services, while also meeting demands for speed, affordability, security, and compliance. All of these technical virtues are the building blocks for mission-critical IT. As we see it, mission-critical IT without business results cannot be critical.

“That our customer teams can truly feel personal commitment matters more than ever in an era with a shortage of tech talent. It empowers engaged experts to expand their expertise – it enables the scalability of expertise.”

Scalability of expertise

Not only does our customer team model better support our customers, but it makes us more engaged and effective as colleagues. Our experts all willingly choose to work on a team because the customer case personally interests and/or challenges them. The team therefore has the feeling that it is venturing on the customer journey together. This promotes equitability in the relationship and boosts certainty and confidence on both sides. In short: our customers’ pains and gains are our pains and gains.

That our customer teams can truly feel personal commitment matters more than ever in an era with a shortage of tech talent. It empowers engaged experts to expand their expertise – it enables the scalability of expertise. In this sense, our company culture is more akin to that of a startup, in which a team of sharp, multi-talented people is recruited to move fast and get as much done as they can as efficiently as possible. That team spirit emboldens us to make strides in innovation. When we’re supported by teammates we have total trust in, our question is never: are we up for this challenge? It is: when can we start? That grit no doubt rubs off on the customer’s business; it invites our colleagues to grow as individuals too.

It’s not uncommon to hear one of our engineers say that they decided to join Schuberg Philis because advancing in their career here meant they could continue to do what they love: engineering. At other companies, advancement would require an expert to become a manager and then perhaps a manager of managers. By contrast, we believe that experts should be not only permitted, but actually promoted, for working toward their own mastery. While it need not necessarily be about mastering one specific skill or talent, it is about mastering what is most meaningful to our colleagues. This is why we often say that at Schuberg Philis, people can master their own destiny. By extension, we believe that in partnering with us, our customers can too.

By Wolf Marcuse, Wouter Simons and Erik-Jan Kool

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