5 Critical Technical Skills for the Future of Work (and How to Prepare)

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The technology, processes, people, and external forces (e.g., regulations) that drive businesses forward continue to evolve at a rapid pace. The rate of change is also increasing as leading companies across industries mature in how they use machine learning, robotic process automation (RPA), analytics, and cloud technologies.

These new capabilities are helping lower costs, increase productivity, reduce errors or defects, and boost customer engagement. At the same time, jobs that had been around for centuries are now being replaced (e.g., data entry clerks, machine operators, quality analysts). This is forcing us to define and learn new technical skills in order to keep up. For better or worse, they’ve changed how businesses will operate forever.

Companies that have been slow to adapt are being forced to do so in order to remain competitive and stay in business. These shifts will also significantly impact nearly every person in the workforce as jobs are automated or augmented by technology.

As a result, there is a need to up-skill (deepen our expertise) or re-skill (acquire new expertise) to stay ahead of the fast-changing job market.

So, what technical skills will help you prepare and lead companies through this transformation?


Top 5 Technical Skills for the Future

Before we begin, we want to add that it’s highly probable you’ll need a combination of the following technical skills. All of them work together and will be even more interconnected as technologies mature.

We recommend understanding each of the following, at least to a basic level, to be able to “talk the talk”. However, if you want to set yourself up for a successful future in IT, develop your competency in at least 2 or 3 of these technical skills.

1. Business Architecture

Business Architecture is the newest and fastest-growing practice area as it relates to the common Information Technology (IT) Architecture competencies. The practice was developed as a result of the critical gap in understanding where the business wants to go (strategy & objectives) and what’s needed to get there (processes & technology).

The Business Architecture Framework
Source: Business Architecture Guild

As a result, the role of a Business Architect is often located within the IT organization at many companies. This helps to align business and IT by having resources dedicated to partnering with the business to develop and elaborate on their goals. However, some companies have deployed Business Architecture directly within the business given the often deep business knowledge and relationships required.

One challenge with the role being under IT is that it can make business engagement difficult since you’re not seen as “one of them” in their minds. This means you’ll need to earn respect and a seat at the table for strategic discussions.

Regardless of where the role is staffed, Business Architect resources should be developing expertise consisting of near equal parts business and IT.

This means you may not be an expert in the latest technology, but you should know enough to understand how it aligns with the business direction. Similarly, you should also know enough about the business to grasp where technology can successfully enable their organizational processes and needs.

Being able to align business and IT strategies will be crucial as businesses look to new ways of working and servicing their customers. Business Architects will help define what the business needs to be successful while partnering with IT to make it a reality. This is precisely what this competency was built to support.

Crucial Technical Skills

  • Definition of enterprise business capability and value stream models to support strategic planning to meet business, customer, and other external needs.
  • Creation of multi-year initiative roadmaps and business cases to implement and mature capabilities.
  • Collection and analysis of business challenges (pain points) to identify opportunities to improve performance, reduce manual effort, or eliminate errors/defects.
  • Documentation of business processes models using the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) 2.0 standards to support understanding and enablement by IT resources.

Standards & Certifications

Business Architecture Guild was the only organization focused on Business Architecture for some time. They publish the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge (BIZBOK) and administers the Business Architecture certifications.

The Open Group is a globally recognized organization that defines open and vendor-agnostic standards and certifications. In the past few years, they released a Business Architecture stream to complement their well-known IT and Enterprise Architecture certification offerings. Their Open Group Certified Architect (Open CA) certification now allows you to specialize in Business Architecture through their first two levels of certification (Certified and Master).

Recommended Training

  • Build Business Architecture Skills with Tested Techniques (Udemy): This course starts with defining a Business Motivation Model (BMM) and Value Proposition Canvas (VPC), then moves on to the Business Model Canvas and finally the Business Capability Model (BCM). These are all core tools and frameworks used by Business Architects to better align IT and business.
  • Build an Advantage with Business Architecture (Business Architecture Associates): This 5-day course is incredibly in-depth and prepares you for the Certified Business Architecture (CBA) exam. The training covers all of the Business Architecture practices from BIZBOK through lectures, workshops, and real-world exercises to apply your learnings.
  • Applying Enterprise Business Architecture (Global Knowledge): This 3-day training covers a wide range of Business & Enterprise Architecture related topics. It is one of the best training courses out there focused on helping the business define a strategy and putting Busines Architecture into practice.

2. Enterprise Technology Architecture

On the more technical side, resources will skill in Enterprise Architecture (EA) are critical at companies of any size. They help realize the business capabilities and roadmap of initiatives through modern and future technology solutions. This is often done in partnership with Business Architects along with leaders across business and IT.

As CompTIA points out, the goal of enterprise architecture planning is to start with corporate goals and move backward to the optimal technology solution.

At most companies, Enterprise Architects, sometimes called Technical Architects, are generally responsible for creating enterprise-level architecture deliverables. These are often referred to as Enterprise Architecture Plans (EAP), Future State Architectures (FSA), and some refer to them as EA Blueprints since they lay the foundation for how the business strategy connects to the best enabling solutions.

These EA artifacts should address the full technology stack of the solution. This includes the infrastructure where the solution is hosted, databases for storing information, application to deliver functionality, and most importantly, the user’s experience with the entire solution.

While Enterprise Architecture planning exercise is frequently done once per year at many companies, it should really be an ongoing process. After all, change is the only constant, right?

The core components of this Enterprise Architecture process is often performed in three phases:

  1. Current State Assessment: This includes analysis of one or more business units across several dimensions such as systems, processes, data, infrastructure, and security. The goal is to understand what works well, where there are technology gaps, or potential areas to better support the business. In many cases, companies prefer the, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset, primarily due to funding constraints.
  2. Future State Definition: With the understanding of where the business is at now, the next step is to chart the path for the future. This often involves a market scan to look at what competitors are doing and how technology is evolving in the industry. The outside-in perspective gives the company insights to differentiate and make investments to remain competitive.
  3. Multi-Year Roadmap Alignment: The final phase is all around prioritizing those investments and helping to shape a multi-year initiative roadmap. This typically involves leaders across business, IT, and Finance to ensure the projects are scoped correctly, are technically feasible, and provide the company with a good return on investment (ROI).

The most widely adopted framework for Enterprise Architecture is The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). It provides a standardized and structured methodology for implementing and executing architecture practices at any sized company. There are other EA Frameworks such as Zachman and Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) which was created for government businesses.

The TOGAF model covers aspects such as defining Architecture Visions, Business Architecture, Information Systems Architecture, Technology Architecture, Opportunities & Solutions, Migration Planning, Implementation Governance, and Architecture Change Management.

Source: The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF)

Once the projects are prioritized and approved, the EA works with the implementation teams and other architects to define the more detailed project-level solutions. The job of an IT architect never ends to ensure the technologies being implemented meet the needs of the business.

Crucial Technical Skills

  • Collaboration with business and IT leaders or subject matter experts to understand strategic objectives and technology requirements.
  • Curiosity about new technologies and potential applications to business challenges and opportunities.
  • Ability to negotiate and navigate difficult conversations to build consensus and understanding of recommended solutions.
  • An analytical mindset to define solution options and tradeoffs to solve business problems.
  • IT design and modeling background to communicate solution ideas, system interactions, data flows, and user experience through illustrations.

Standards & Certifications

The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) is the most popular architecture methodology and standard framework utilized globally.

  • Certification to Earn: TOGAF 9 Certification is recognized by nearly all architecture practitioners and organizations. The certification is critical to demonstrate your understanding and expertise in architecture practices and methodologies.
  • Other Valuable Certification: ArchiMate Modeling Certification provides a foundational understanding of the open modeling language used by most architecture groups and vendors. It provides a standard modeling framework for defining processes, systems, organizations, information flows, and technology infrastructure.

Recommended Training

  • TOGAF for Practitioners – Level 1 and 2 (Global Knowledge): This is the most in-depth TOGAF 9 training you will find anywhere. Without a doubt, you will be ready to ace the TOGAF 9 Certification exam and have developed critical architecture skills coming out of this training.
  • TOGAF 9 Training Part 1 and 2 (Simplilearn): While not quite in the same league, this is an excellent alternative if you don’t have the budget for the above training. While not as thorough in some areas, it covers the TOGAF exam fee and includes 32 hours of training, quizzes, and practice exams.

3. Cloud Engineering

Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic push to run more business applications in the cloud. This is because cloud-based solutions offer unmatched flexibility through configuration (less coding), faster response to business needs, and lower cost than on-premise IT systems and infrastructure.

This trend will continue well into the future as companies demand more flexibility and lower IT costs. Legacy IT systems that companies are running on mainframe or custom developed technology are rapidly moving to the cloud.

As a result, IT professionals that have experience working with cloud or “as a Service” solutions will thrive. Just in the past few years, there has been a boom of cloud engineer and architect roles across just about every industry. Companies are struggling to find talented staff with technical skills to help them move to the cloud.

So, who are the big players in cloud technologies if you want to develop cloud computing skills to fill this gap? When it comes to enterprise cloud solutions, the top names include the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

Chances are good that your company is using a cloud product from one of these vendors today. Whether it’s a full customer relationship management (CRM) product suite like Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce, data storage on Amazon Web Services (AWS), or company email using G Suite by Google.

However, there are other niche vendors that offer technology that targets more specific business needs. This can include functions like project delivery, human resource management, fraud detection, and robotic process automation.

Regardless of which cloud platform you choose, there are plenty of career path opportunities in the cloud. In addition, the technical skills you build while learning one platform will help develop a mindset for working with just about any cloud solution.

Crucial Technical Skills

  • Collaboration with business and IT leaders or subject matter experts to understand strategic objectives and technology requirements. It may go without saying, but this is a critical skill that all current and future IT professionals need to develop.
  • Understanding of cloud platforms and how they provide more flexibility for the business than on-premise solutions, potentially at a lower cost.
  • Experience supporting IT teams migrating to a new solution to provide enhanced functionality for the business.
  • Ability to define integration patterns between cloud and on-premise solutions during the transformation to the cloud.
  • IT design and modeling background to communicate solution ideas, system interactions, data flows, and user experience through illustrations.

Standards & Certifications

There are several organizations that define standards and build consensus across cloud practitioners and leaders. This includes the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), Open Cloud Consortium (OCC), Open Grid Forum (OGF), and The Object Management Group (OMG).

When it comes to cloud computing certifications, they are typically administered directly through the vendors. However, the Cloud Credential Council (CCC) offers vendor-neutral cloud certifications for anyone looking to be a general practitioner. This is a great place to start if you don’t know where you want to specialize right now.

Certifications to Earn: In most cases, you’ll need to start with the fundamentals and then advance to specialization paths; Architect, Developer, or Operations.

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud Practioner Certification: AWS currently dominates market share in cloud computing deployments. It’s hard to find companies that don’t use AWS in some capacity.
  • Google Cloud Certification: Google has been growing rapidly with its enterprise-level G Suite platform. They are battling Amazon head-on to fight for large private and public customers.
  • Microsoft Azure Certification: Another top contender, Microsoft has seen a dramatic rise in popularity in recent years with their pivot to cloud technologies.
  • Salesforce Certification: While they play in a different space in the cloud, Salesforce is the original king of the cloud. The Salesforce CRM platform is widely used across just about every industry across the globe. As a result, Salesforce technical skills and expertise is in high demand across the board.

Recommended Training

  • AWS Fundamentals: Going Cloud-Native (Coursera): This highly popular training provides a crash course on AWS cloud computing. It’s a perfect primer on the fundamental AWS components to get you ready for the Cloud Practitioner Certification.
  • Transforming Business with Google Cloud (Coursera): Using a business-driven approach, this training helps you understand the value of cloud computing and how it’s changing our world. The best part is you’ll come out of the course with ideas and a business case for cloud adoption at your company.
  • Cloud Architecture with GCP Professional Certificate (Coursera): This highly recommended course is designed specifically to prepare for the Professional Cloud Architect certification. The training provides a great mix of architecture concepts and best practices for cloud computing using the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). It bundles two of the top future IT skills in one course!
  • Salesforce Certified Administrator – Lightning (Udemy): If you’re new Salesforce and want to take the foundational Salesforce ADX201 certification, it hard to beat this training. It covers everything you need to know about Salesforce’s new Lightning components to prepare you for certification.
    • Alternatively, you can also build your Salesforce skills using Trailhead. This is Salesforce’s free interactive online training platform. You’ll earn badges as you complete various training courses and develop various Salesforce skills.

4. Machine Learning & Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

There are countless applications for machine learning and robotic process automation (RPA) across nearly any profession and industry.

Companies are investing millions in automation technologies and machine learning capabilities to reduce operating costs, improve quality, and increase production. According to Gartner, the robotic process automation market grew by 68% in 2018 and is expected to keep expanding. That’s massive growth!

This is what makes building technical skills in RPA and/or machine learning one of the smartest career moves you can make.

The combination of robotic process automation and machine learning is commonly referred to as intelligent process automation (IPA). This is where the systems are able to automatically self-adjust to changes or slight differences in the pre-programmed processes through the use of learning capabilities.

But, what does that mean for the unsuspecting people who used to do the tasks that are now automated? Well, odds are that most companies are still in the pilot phase of testing out RPA capabilities.

However, RPA and machine learning technologies have the ability to completely disrupt the way all of us work. In many cases, jobs are at risk to be completely replaced by automation over the next couple of decades as adoption rates rise. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and many other industry leaders see great value in robotic automation and machine learning, but they know there is great risk in it as well.

This is where building technical expertise to design and maintain these “bots” puts you in a great position for future jobs. If you can understand where to responsibly apply these learning bots, the greater the potential value you’ll be to companies of the future.

Crucial Technical Skills

  • Experience documenting business processes and workflows to define what activities are performed systematically or by human intervention.
  • Analyzes and communicates opportunities to optimize or enhance the whole or part of processing.
  • Ability to calculate the costs and benefits associated with automation that can enable streamlined processing.
  • Training and application of software programming and databases to build technical skills with RPA and machine learning technical components.

Standards & Certifications

Standards for RPA technology is currently limited due to the technology being so new. However, the IEEE standards organization is working with a team of RPA developers, service providers, consultants, analysts, and academics to build consensus around best practices. These experts and advisors are part of their Intelligent Process Automation (IPA) workgroup.

Machine learning standards are in a similar situation, but has more international backing. ISO and IEC created a joint committee to begin structuring standards and practices across the whole artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem of technologies, including machine learning.

The top 3 vendors to consider when it comes to RPA technology certification are UiPath, AutomationAnywhere, and BluePrism. These are the clear leaders in the rapidly expanding RPA market. Most vendors offer public versions or free trials for you to test their software if you want to develop your automation technical skills at home.

Certifications to Earn:

Recommended Training

  • Machine Learning course from Stanford University (Coursera): Provides about 56 hours (4-5 weeks) of online content to develop your machine learning skills. They begin with the basics and progress to more advanced topics such as regression models and neural networks.
  • Complete UiPath RPA Developer Course (Udemy): One of the highest-rated RPA courses available that covers UiPath from end to end. The course includes over 10 hours of lectures that cover RPA basics, best practices for RPA development, and exercises to build 7 robots using UiPath.
  • RPA Starter Training & RPA Developer Foundation Training (UiPath Academy): Provide a foundational understanding of RPA and the basics of development on UiPath. These are great resources if you’re just starting out with the UiPath solution.
  • AutomationAnywhere University is the company’s own RPA training catalog. Their courses include over 65 online courses ranging from starter courses to more advanced AutomationAnywhere software topics.

5. Cybersecurity

As we move more business processing to the cloud, we need to ensure there are security controls in place to keep hackers out. There have been many high profile data breaches over the past several years which highlight the need for greater focus on security. The list includes many large companies from almost all industries (e.g., Target, Anthem, Equifax, Marriott, Facebook).

Cybersecurity is a field where there are no rules and the game is constantly changing. Hackers are devising and implementing new methodologies and technologies to gain access to company data.

Most companies have started to take notice and are proactively investing heavily to fortify their processes, systems, and networks.

They’re also adopting and expanding the IT roles to provide more thorough coverage of systems and projects implementing new technologies. Cybersecurity roles typically include conducting cybersecurity threat assessments, policy compliance checks, and security architecture consultation to ensure identified risks are mitigated.

As a result, technical skills for cybersecurity professionals will continue to be in high demand with greater volumes of data moving “outside the four walls” of the company.

Crucial Technical Skills

  • Utilizes analytical and inquisitive approach to identify all potential security threats.
  • Attention to detail in reviewing solutions and technical designs to identify security gaps.
  • Experience with problem-solving to propose security remediations and risk mitigations.
  • Collaborate with IT and business staff to identify security requirements for any solution to be deployed.

Standards & Certifications

There are several standard organizations focused on international and country-specific cybersecurity practices. The most widely known and followed within the US is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). They provide a cybersecurity framework of standards, best practices, and guidelines to manage risks.

The international body defining security standards is the ISO/IEC joint committee defining the 2700 family of standards. This includes standards and practices for information security management systems (ISMS).

Certifications to Earn:

Recommended Training

  • IT Fundamentals for Cybersecurity (Coursera): This course from IBM covers all the basics if you’re just getting into the world of cybersecurity. The training will teach you various concepts, processes, and tools utilized by companies today to prevent and mitigate risks from cyberattacks.
  • Cybersecurity for Business (Coursera): This specialized course is a more business-oriented approach to understanding cybersecurity and the risks to businesses. The training provides a great perspective on the various types of cyber threats, attack vectors, and how to proactively detect and mitigate security risks.
  • Cybrary: If you want some more introductory training or just don’t have a budget for professional development, you can’t beat Cybrary. They have a vast catalog of online cybersecurity training that you can take at your own pace.

Conclusion

As we continue down this journey into the future, you will need a solid mix of these 5 technical skills to prepare for new IT career paths.

The job market is rapidly shifting to ensure technology ecosystems are able to keep up with dynamic business, consumer, and other external factors. As a result, businesses will continue looking for talent with these critical technical skills.

Now is the perfect time to begin developing your understanding of architecture, cloud computing, robotic process automation, and cybersecurity. We encourage you to pursue training and earn a certification in one or more of these capabilities – your future career will thank you!

Are there other technical skills you or your company are investing in to prepare the workforce for the future of work? Leave us a comment to let us know!

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