Workspace trends to watch in 2017

There’s no doubt 2017 will be a shape-shifting year when it comes to the ways in which we work. It’s the year Generation Z enters the workforce and more and more Millennials become managers while the baby boomers retire.

It’s also a time when major corporates have to become more flexible in terms of where and when their employees work, and freelancers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, remote workers, contract staff and ‘blended workforces’ form a larger part of the workforce.

As technology increasingly enables different ways of working, the pressure is on to provide workspaces that are simple and flexible and technology-enabled.

The human race is developing fast and the easier it is for us to do things and the quicker it is for us to do things, the better.

Wherever we go we connect to the wi-fi; office hours are no longer rigid; we receive email on our tablets, our smartphones wherever we are. We can communicate with anything and anyone in the world at any time. All this means ‘workspaces’ have had to change to keep pace.

Meetings take place via video conferencing from South Africa to anywhere in the world at any time, something that used to be the preserve of big companies. Virtual meeting areas, working from the convenience of your mobile device, using Gautrain rather than your vehicle – all these save time. Our world is changing it is all about convenience, the fastest offerings, the quickest way of doing anything the simplest ways to use.

These are exciting times but we need to stay relevant at all times in order to accommodate small-to-medium sized businesses and help them grow and contribute to the economy.

Below are key trends in the workspace arena for 2017:

Corporates embrace cowork spaces. A few years ago when I went overseas to research coworking spaces, it boggled my mind how bigger corporate companies use co-working spaces. KPMG, for example, has rented space in London’s Interchange where its team that works with start-ups is now situated. It made sense for them to be close to where the innovation and action is happening. Merck, General Electric and even The Guardian newspaper’s offices in the US are using cowork spaces. Today this is happening in South Africa too. With the technology we offer at our spaces we make it convenient and easy for such companies to do so. Technology has assisted with corporates outsourcing departments to coworking spaces and assisted staff by being able to work closer from home in a coworking environment. We also find cowork spaces are ideal for the person that has a position where they travel a lot. We have big clients from around the world that use our spaces as satellite offices/meeting destinations, for example.

Simplicity and efficiency is key to ensuring cowork spaces are in demand. Clients need to use their time to max capacity and we offer them various solutions in which to operate to their full capacity. We are moving away from the traditional office and enjoy a luxurious, well-appointed space, which also has a homey feel. We appreciate good service and hassle free days. Socialising and networking in the office environment has become one of our more day-to-day trends.

With flexibility a major international trend, it is vital that we meet all the needs of the typical entrepreneur/small business owner in South Africa. We have travelled aboard and observed and researched coworking models to ensure we’re market relevant and flexible, with different types of office space for different types of businesses. Our clients want convenience and affordability, and they want options. Clients include IT, development, attorneys, training organisations, promotional companies, designers, journalists, freelancers, audio visual people, food and beverage companies – the list goes on.

Freelancing and contract working is a huge trend around the world with the Intuit 2020 report reckoning that within a few years, 40% of the workforce will be freelancing. The freelancer, hired ‘on-demand’ on a project-by-project basis, is becoming a popular option with companies loath to fork out on pension plans and medical aids. So this is where the idea of the ‘blended workforce’ comes in. Future Workplace lists this as a huge trend that will see company employees work side by side with freelancers on projects. With office space becoming tighter as corporates reduce costs and staff, coworking and serviced workspaces are the option they’re looking for.”

Mari Schourie is CEO of The Workspace.

How RA’s top up contribution has new rules but the same old benefits

The period between the calendar and tax year end is referred to as “RA season” by the savings industry in South Africa. It is during this time that taxpayers seek to reduce their income tax bill by making a top up contribution to their retirement annuity.

The rules around how people do this changed in 2016, but the benefits of making a top up contribution have remained the same. For those who qualify, it still an easy way to reduce their tax liability, boost their savings, and earn compounding tax-free returns.

Historically, making a top up contribution late in the tax year had little to do with procrastination. Rather, it was the consequence of a complicated tax provision that permitted taxpayers to claim RA contributions against non-pensionable income only.

Non-pensionable income is income that does not attract a compulsory contribution to an employer’s pension or provident fund. If employees do not belong to a workplace retirement fund, then all their income would be non-pensionable. Alternatively, if only their basic salary is pensionable, other remuneration such as commissions, bonuses and overtime would be considered non-pensionable. The earnings of self-employed people, as well as taxable rental and interest income also fall into this category.  

Typically, it is only towards the tax year end that taxpayers have a firm idea what their annual non-pensionable income will be, and the available tax deduction, hence the year-end top up. But, with the passing of retirement reform legislation, the rules of the game have changed.

Under the old regime, effective up to 29 February 2016, members of retirement annuities could claim contributions up to 15% of non-pensionable income. The big negative of this (apart from the complexities of defining non-pensionable income) was the 15% limit, much less than the 27,5% permitted for a pension fund. On the plus side, there was no rand cap on the amount and it did not matter how much you had contributed to their workplace pension or provident fund.

The new laws turn this around. The rules are much simpler. Taxpayers can now claim RA contributions against their entire income, and at a much higher rate (27,5%). The downside is that the total annual permitted deduction is capped at R350,000 and this includes the contributions made to a workplace pension or provident fund.

These reforms are good news for those who earn substantial amounts of non-pensionable income, as they can now claim a bigger deduction, but not so much for high-income earners limited by the R350,000 cap, or for those who already contribute meaningfully to their workplace pension.  

But for many, the top up contributions remains a viable and attractive option. Take the example of middle-aged employee paying marginal tax at 41%. Her remuneration is R1m, which allows her to claim total retirement fund contributions up to R275,000. She contributes R150,000 to her pension fund, allowing her to make a top up contribution of R125,000. This will afford her a tax refund of R51,250 once she is assessed by SARS. Further, the interest income on the R125,000, taxed at 41%, would attract no tax in her RA, giving her a further R3,500 tax saving pa.

Both of these amounts – the initial capital and the accumulated return – will of course be taxed on withdrawal, but at a maximum rate of 36% (and most likely at a much lower rate). So, there is a tangible cash benefit that comes with the top up contribution.

With the restrictions imposed by ‘non-pensionable income’ falling away, taxpayers also have more scope to add top up contribution to their workplace pension or provident fund (rules permitting) and get the same tax benefit.

Which is more beneficial? Assuming both options have the prospect of similar returns before fees, it comes down to a comparison of fee levels (which impact hugely on the long-terms savings outcome, but also on the taxpayer’s personal plans in particular for when and how they intend to access their retirement savings). For example, the RA can only be accessed from age 55 onward, a workplace retirement fund at any time on leaving the employer.

Either way, the year-end top up contribution remains a compelling way for most taxpayers to achieve immediate tax savings and improved prospects of a financially-secure retirement.      

Steven Nathan is the CEO at 10X Investments.

A new skills gap in the audit sphere

As businesses increasingly focus on Big Data and more complex systems, the pressure is mounting on the auditing industry to produce the necessary skills and rethink its standards.

The capability of businesses to capture and communicate data digitally on an unprecedented scale has resulted in an increasing focus on data in both day-to-day transactions and financial statements. As a result, many companies are changing their business models in innovative ways in response to these developments. 

With data analytics becoming more and more important in order to accurately audit businesses, the audit landscape is also rapidly changing. The auditor is increasingly expected to gather evidence from the analysis of much larger populations, requiring increased use of data analytics and the specialist skills of IT auditors. But while the demand for IT auditors is growing, the industry seems to be slow to respond.

With the audit profession having remained largely unchanged for so many years, it is justifiably challenging to get firms to shift from the traditional model to something that requires a whole new skillset. But now is the time for auditing firms to make a change, or risk being left behind.

The slow growth of IT auditing skills in the industry can partly be attributed to the fact that the International Standards of Auditing (ISA) at present do not reference the use of data analytics in the auditing process, beyond mention of traditional CAATs. While advanced IT auditing techniques are not prohibited by the ISAs, this lack of reference may be viewed as a barrier to their adoption more broadly.

However, a draft exposure for changes in the ISAs to incorporate an IT audit approach has recently been published for comment. For us, this signals a significant change in the industry likely on the way within the next two to three years.

This leaves us with the second major barrier, which is the training of financial auditors. The investment in re-training and re-skilling auditors, which over time have acquired knowledge, skills and experience in traditional ways of auditing, is an expensive and time consuming process.

New recruits are equally challenging. The typical auditor that enters the market as a new graduate right now has some knowledge of IT audit techniques, but is still far from adequate. Dedicated IT auditing skills are also not actively taught at universities, which leaves the responsibility to auditing firms like ours to grow those expertise.

It is an expensive process and getting IT auditors to pass the international exam accreditation is a challenge on its own. There is also a time component, as the auditor is required to gain a further three years’ worth of experience before he is certified as a registered IT Auditor.

After that, skills retention remains an ongoing issue, as IT auditors get snatched up by other firms as soon as they qualify. But the notion that companies can rely on these skills to be available for the right price, is not sustainable.

The fact of the matter is that the auditing industry is likely to be a vastly different landscape within a few short years, and more audit firms and educational institutions will need to put IT audit training programmes in place to fill the massive skills gap that is forming.

Bilal Vallee is the IT Audit Manager at Mazars.

How digitising archived broadcast footage can create additional value

As we replace manual and paper-based processes and methods with technological innovations and automated processes, the digital age is rapidly permeating every aspect of our world.

Books, documents, sound recordings and the like are being converted for electronic storage, which is beneficial from a preservation and retrieval perspective. One such industry that can benefit from digitisation is the broadcast industry, particularly with regard to archived footage. It’s easy to imagine warehouses and storage rooms filled with thousands of reels of broadcast recordings, taking up space, gathering dust and costing money. These physical repositories pose a risk and can easily be destroyed and lost forever.

If not destroyed by fire or flood, these reels of film and tape will eventually degrade over time until they are no longer usable. By converting broadcast footage into a digital format now, broadcasters will be able to store archived footage safely and easily. In addition to being able to retrieve archived footage quickly, there are a number of other benefits that broadcasters will realise, through the digitisation of their historical footage.

It’s time to digitise the past

Southern African broadcasters host a sizeable collection of audio visual content that has specific value to our culture, society and history that has been built up as part of a mandate to document, preserve and conserve the audio-visual content for the purposes of informing, educating and developing our culture. These collections, particularly the 1-inch and U-matic tape formats, have suffered serious deterioration. Analogue media carriers and playback machines are now outdated, so reliability and maintenance thereof is becoming a major issue. Moreover, Video Tape Recorders (VTRs) are no longer in production and as such, there is a decline in the availability of spare parts or skilled technicians to service them. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important to digitally reproduce these creative and historic assets in order to preserve them for future generations to use, before it’s too late.

Television broadcasters are faced with two sets of demands when it comes to their archived footage. One demand is being made from within their own organisation where there is a need to archive their output and mine previous outputs as a source for re-runs or to create a free library of footage. This type of demand is echoed by other broadcast companies and production organisations that are looking for such footage. The other demand comes in from those who wish to service or capitalise on the demand for archival TV. This can be, for example, teachers or historians and online television distributors like ShowMax and Netflix, looking to capitalise on old programming.  Where the broadcaster is a public one, the argument has been made that archived material belongs to the public, because they paid for it. By digitising this content, broadcasters can make it available (on a free or pay-per-use basis) and can showcase the diversity of material that they hold, making it available to researchers and consumers in a convenient form.

It’s time to reduce the cost of your archive

By transferring to a digital archive this will reduce facility costs and space requirements significantly, allowing for optimised workflows in a file-based environment. In order to keep a tape media archive for the next 10 years and beyond, the recommendations from SMTPE and the tape manufacturers is to maintain constant cold temperature and humidity requirements, which mirror the requirements of data centres. As the data density of analogue media is low, the space and cost of maintaining the archives becomes increasingly expensive while availability of playback machines and spare parts are increasingly limited. Transferring the archive into digital format will reduce costs of the overall facility including temperature control, a reduction in space requirements whilst optimising workflow and access in a file-based environment.

It’s time to monetise the past

Once historical tapes or reels (as the case may be) and their associated metadata have been digitised, it becomes quick and easy to search for a specific broadcast, which is particularly useful in live streaming scenarios. For example, a spectacular goal from a memorable sporting match could be retrieved and inserted into a current live match. As previously mentioned, digitised broadcasts could also provide a new revenue generation stream where this archived footage could be sold to other broadcasters and production houses.

Every TV user is now accustomed to storing and retrieving programmes at home and this has been the case since VHS recorders became common in the 1980s, which generates an increased presumption that old shows and broadcasts must be available somewhere. Entire TV channels are built on the belief that archival material can find an audience well after its original broadcast and DVD releases of old shows continue to grow. It’s time for broadcasters to monetise these opportunities as new channels such as YouTube or Over the Top (OTT) services provide new demand for content and new ways to engage with audiences. Archival content is a unique asset, which could differentiate broadcasters from their competitors and reconnect them with their viewership.

How technology can help

It’s time for broadcasters to put in place a solution to efficiently and effectively promote tapeless workflows from beginning to end, as well as a preservation solution that can work archived physical footage for storage in a digital file based server system. Technology exists that makes it possible to undertake large-scale mass preservation and digitisation and migration of audio, video and film archives, automating as much of the process as possible to eliminate the opportunity for human error. This migration/digitisation is done in conjunction with restoration and treatment remedies to ensure that the digital footage is a faithful replication of analogue.

Once audio visual content has been electronically converted, there are technologies that offer access solutions that are either automated or offer assisted indexation, metadata management and documentation based on open standards for interoperability. Such solutions are secure and sustainable, effectively hosting, preserving and storing for access and enabling monetisation with media distribution partners. Digitisation partners are able to train broadcast staff on how to operate and manage these solutions in order to maximise productivity and potential for additional revenue. In short, the time for broadcasters to digitise their historical broadcasts and recording is now. Not only will it simplify their processes and allow broadcasters to finally retire outdated playback technology, it will open up new potential revenue streams, and bring to light previously unconsidered opportunities for education and research as well.

Paul Divall is the Managing Director of Intelligent Technologies at The Jasco Group.

Why South African CEOs need to focus on cultivating resilience

South African companies operate in a constantly connected, “always-on,” highly demanding work cultures with their widespread risk of stress and burnout make it true to say that companies that do not cultivate resilience have very little chance of succeeding or indeed even surviving in this extremely challenging work environment.

Among the many things keeping South African CEO’s up at night are profitability, attracting and retaining talent, as well as ever evolving impact technology has on companies.

Profitability is changing, consumer spending is down and the regulatory environment is uncertain.

Attracting the best talent and retaining it is becoming more and more difficult and companies need to adapt to accommodating a diverse workforce with different values. The generation of people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, the Millennials, who will make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020, are a different breed and need to be treated differently. They want to work for a meaningful purpose and need to be offered a stimulating empathetic company where accommodating them results in a flexible and tolerant work environment.

The continuous need for change as technology evolves, seemingly at the speed of light, means that companies must keep abreast of developments, use technology smartly and keep the technology within their companies current.

All of these changes ultimately require a company and its employees to be resilient and fit for change. Besides being a good return on investment, and simply good business sense, cultivating resilience in a company has become a necessity in the face of chronic negative stress, ever increasing demands, complexity, ambiguity and constant change. Our current constantly connected, “always-on,” highly demanding work cultures with their widespread risk of stress and burnout make it true to say that companies that do not cultivate resilience have very little chance of succeeding or indeed even surviving in this extremely challenging work environment.

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from setbacks or to thrive during times of challenge or change. It grows out of a set of “learnable” behaviours with results that interact to make you and your team less vulnerable to stress. Simple daily actions can increase your resilience whether you are dealing with the acute stress of sudden challenges, or the chronic stress of daily life.

To a certain extent, we are all resilient, but everyone can become even more so. A wealth of research points to four factors that help people, companies, and teams, become more agile and effective in times of stress. These are: relationships, efficacy, affect and learning.

Relationships: When we are supported and motivated by others, our ties to them make us stronger, happier, more creative and more resilient to challenges.

Efficacy: When we have control over our actions and believe that they matter, resilience is built. Efficacy entails setting goals and having aspirations as well as the confidence that we can reach them and that we can make a difference.

Affect: Positive emotions such as happiness, joy, optimism, satisfaction, gratitude, peace and humour make us more creative, better able to find innovative solutions and cope with stress.

Learning: When we can find lessons in the midst of traumas, stress, challenges and injuries, we are better able to move on. Through the challenges, we have faced, we have grown, matured, and gained strength.

Just as individuals can learn to develop personal traits of resilience, so too, companies can develop a culture of resilience. How do they do this? Consistent with the “Law of the Few” described in Malcom Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, key frontline leaders can be catalysts to increase group/team cohesion and dedication to the job ahead. They do this by demonstrating the four core attributes: optimism, decisiveness, integrity and open communication. When a small group of highly credible individuals, demonstrate the behaviours associated with resilience, they have the ability to change the culture of an entire organisation as others replicate the resilient characteristics they have observed and learned from them.

Albert Bandura argues that the perception of self-efficacy shapes the ability to be a catalyst for change and key human behaviours, namely, the courses of action people choose to pursue, how much effort they will put into given endeavours, how long they will persevere when faced with obstacles and failures, their resilience to adversity, whether their thought patterns are positive or self-hindering, how much stress and depression they experience when coping with challenging environmental demands, and the level of accomplishment they achieve.

Resilient companies invest in their client base. One example is how American Express Platinum Travel Services sent a valuable gift to loyal customers as a way of saying “thank you” in trying times. Resilient organisations invest in their leaders and all levels of their workforce. Giving 30 departmental managers two entire days off at a location away from work, to attend a training programme on skills in resilient leadership and the latest advances in how to manage personal stress, or fielding truly seminal programmes in physical fitness, nutrition and stress management, not only for workers but for their families as well, are two examples of this. Resilient organisations are innovative in times of adversity like Apple, which introduced radically simple and beautifully designed products at a time when competitors were commoditising their products, totally remaking the company in the process.

When both setbacks and successes are treated as positive learning experiences, leaders can create a constructive environment by breaking down social and bureaucratic barriers and engaging with employees on a personal level taking a non-judgemental, analytical stance as they interact with staff. Thinking positively about setbacks prevents the development of hopelessness and helplessness. This can go a long way to developing the new skills needed in the current business environment.

Susi Astengo is the Managing Director of CoachMatching.

How to choose a distance learning institution that works for you

As thousands of South Africans prepare to enrol in distance learning programmes this year, recognising the value of being able to ‘earn while you learn’.

Students need to ensure they do careful research to find the right institution and right course for their individual needs before parting with their money.

There are countless distance learning institutions in South Africa, but many of them are fly-by-night colleges whose qualifications won’t add value to your CV. Others may be legitimate institutions, but lack the support structures that make for successful distance study.

Just as prospective students would carefully investigate their options before signing up for full-time study, so they should put in the time and effort to make the best choice for their future when choosing a distance learning programme and institution.

Distance learning is taking off like never before, because of a range of factors: there is an increased demand for skills development given the tough competition for available positions, many people are not able to study full-time due to financial reasons, and others are not able to study at a full-time contact institution given the additional costs related to transport and accommodation.

On the positive side, distance learning has evolved so dramatically given advances in technology, that it is a much more enjoyable and fruitful undertaking than it was even five years ago, so it is a real option for those who want to keep developing themselves and their careers.

There are a few boxes to check when investigating distance learning programmes and institutions. These are:

• Check the registration and accreditation status of the institution & the qualification

Before you choose a course, determine whether you need a credit-bearing course that is accredited, or whether a non-accredited short learning programme will suffice in helping you get the skills you need.
 
Various institutions and courses require different types of registration and accreditation, and a prospective student should make sure they understand what that would entail for their chosen institution and qualification.

• Make contact on various platforms to get a feel for the institution

Visit the institution’s website to search for information about their courses and their track record. If you don’t get the information that you are looking for relatively easily, or if navigating the website is cumbersome, that is a red light in terms of how engaging with their platforms will be in future.
 
Also, reach out via email or contact them telephonically to evaluate the level of service you are getting. If an institution does not give prompt feedback and answer your questions timeously, then you already have a good indication of the level of service you can expect from them.

• Don’t be shy to engage in some social media stalking

Does the institution have active and responsive social media profiles? Do they have a substantial number of followers and is there regular activity on the page? Is their social media presence professional? If you can answer all of the above in the affirmative, it is a good indicator that they are established and won’t disappear overnight.

• Find out what support structures are in place

The success or failure of distance learning students is very closely linked to the support services an institution offers.
 
You have to check the range and methods of contact available on various platforms.
 
Check whether they have policies regarding turnaround time for queries and marking of assignments, as that would give you an idea of what to expect. Do they have student portals and online support services, and are their student support tutors suitably qualified? And finally, does the institution make an effort to support, motivate and inspire their students via social media and blogs, and do current students interact (mostly positively) on these platforms?

• Understand the total impact on your pocket

Make sure that the institution is 100% upfront about the costs involved. They have to be able to tell you not only what your fees will be, but also what other expenses you may likely incur. If they are not forthcoming about additional costs such as exam fees, library fees or textbooks, you might find yourself significantly more out of pocket than you budgeted for.
 
Do your homework by researching the institution online and especially by speaking to current and former students.
 
Distance learning is an exciting and potentially very rewarding undertaking, but choosing an institution whose qualifications are not worth the paper they are written on, or whose processes are still stuck in 2006, will ultimately lead to disappointment.

Elbie Liebenberg is the Principal of Oxbridge Academy, which is part of JSE-Listed ADvTECH PTY Ltd.

How can an ambidextrous security posture enables business transformation?

As businesses face mounting pressure to evolve everything in their organisation, from technology, to processes, to market strategies – Cyber-security becomes ever more essential.

Unfortunately, it also becomes ever more complex.

The reality is that very few enterprises are able to instantly digitise and transform their entire underlying infrastructure. In most cases, it’s a gradual transition from the old, to the new. For security professionals, this transition requires an ambidextrous approach: traditional security controls on legacy systems are maintained, but the new wave of platforms (social, mobile, Cloud and big data) are brought securely into the enterprise.

As organisations manage and share increasing volumes of data, through ever-more open ecosystems and value chains, limiting ourselves to merely the traditional Cyber-security models will simply not address next-generation digital business requirements.

In the traditional set-up, IT security teams would often try to put a lid on any new risks by simply saying “no” to new business requests or rigidly following security policies. But as we enter an era of significant change and disruption, business stakeholders are no longer accepting “no’ as an answer.

Now, security teams have a mandate to deliver business outcomes, to enable new innovations and strategies, but in as secure a manner as possible.

Proactivity

The concept of ambidexterity extends further outwards, beyond the realm of the IT division, as more and more social engineering attacks test for vulnerabilities of a non-technical nature. Cyber-security resilience must be woven into the domains of people, culture and processes across the entire breadth of the organisation.

Developing greater awareness and encouraging a security-conscious organisation helps organisations to combat increasingly sophisticated forms of digital fraud – such as phishing, spear-phishing, and whaling.

Another key characteristic of ‘security ambidexterity’ is the focus on proactive, preventative control mechanisms (as opposed to reactive or policy-driven controls). In this way, the enterprise and its security partners continually scan the threat horizon for looming risks, and implement lightning-fast detection and response practices.

As the enterprise becomes more ‘open’ – exposing and integrating more and more of its services into third parties such as suppliers, partners and customers – the attack surface dramatically expands.

An ambidextrous approach acknowledges this trend, incorporating early warning and response practices, to minimise risk while enabling the organisation to participate fully in new digital marketplaces and platforms.

Strengthening legislation

Within the shady underworld of Cyber-crime, South Africa regularly features on lists of ‘most-attacked’, or ‘most vulnerable’ counties. In 2017, it seems more local organisations will feel the pain of data theft, financial losses, and reputation damage.

In response to this escalating risk and to protect the man-on-the-street, authorities have drafted a raft of new legislation – from the Protection of Personal Information Act, to the Cybercrimes and Cyber Security Bill – which bumps security to the top of boardroom agendas.

Ultimately, these steps mean security is no longer just a technology or an operational issue, but is not a legal requirement. Organisations can simply no longer afford to let security be an afterthought in their quest to embrace digital transformation and all the benefits it brings.

A recent paper by Boston Consulting Group highlights the need for company boards to understand how disruptive technologies alter their ‘Cyber-risk exposure’. It notes the responsibility for leaders to support and accelerate transformation, but at the same time to “de-risk their organisations’ value creation or to make the world a bit safer for business partners and consumers.

Only with a truly ambidextrous security posture can CIOs maintain this delicate balance between capturing adventurous new business opportunities, while always keeping a watchful eye on how to derisk the organisation.

Paul Jolliffe is an DSM Expert od Security at T-Systems South Africa.

Why it is important for the IT sector to have soft skills

Forward-thinking businesses are becoming aware that soft skills are crucial for IT sector.

Understanding the essential need, and creating an enabling environment, for so-called ‘soft skills’ such as marketing, communications and client and customer relationship management would go a long way to addressing skills shortages and gender imbalances in the IT sector whilst above all ensuring the strongest possible business outcome for any company.

Softer skills have long been undervalued in the IT sector, where advanced technical skills are highly sought-after and those in possession of them are paid top dollar.

But the fact remains that you can be in possession of the best software or business idea, but without the ability to market and communicate the product and manage the clients effectively, your product will remain quietly in-house. There is a growing realisation across the industry that technical skills are important but that industry leaders must also be in possession of communication skills, negotiating skills, management experience and an understanding of marketing in order to monetise those technical skills.

Currently, we’re seeing significant shortages in the market of people who both understand IT and can effectively take it to market or turn harness it to the benefit of the business. The undervaluing of soft skills may have contributed to gender imbalances in the IT sector. Women in tech businesses are often referred to as non-tech if they aren’t programmers or coders, despite having granular, holistic knowledge and understanding of the tech business. Traditionally, more women have gravitated to the softer skills and relationship building areas, while more men have gravitated to the highly technical fields. Because more of the company soft skills tend to reside with women and because soft skills have been undervalued, women have found themselves at a disadvantage in terms of career progression and remuneration. This may be due in part to women in soft skill roles, in the sector, undervaluing themselves and their role in the overall business. We have to stop qualifying ourselves as ‘not technical’ and so excluding ourselves from the deeper IT business discussions.

Recognising the value of soft skills demands a mindset change. Forward-thinking companies are starting to do so, and they are seeing the benefits. Soft skills are crucial to success. All Executives need to have a say in technical and marketing issues, share equal responsibility in negotiations and workloads, with salaries that are on par, and both male and female employees feeling confident asking for time off to care for their children. This supports work-life balance in a fair way, enhances job satisfaction for all, and allows all employees to contribute soft and technical skills for the overall good of the company.

Once all skills are valued and traditional gender roles are set aside, old school thinking is eliminated and innovation can flourish. It is believed that in part to a company culture that is not hampered by traditional roles or general traditional business thinking, but rather it is output-driven, inclusive and solution-focused.

Taryn Uhlmann is the Executive Head of Marketing & Content and Leigh Watson is the Executive Head of Projects at Discover Digital.

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