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Issue 19

Towards An IT Community– via HR (IV)

Dan Ionescu
Executiv Director
@Danis Consulting
MANAGEMENT

During this year we proposed gathering and synthesizing as many opinions as possible, from the perspective of Human Resources professionals, about the IT companies from the Cluj market and about the idea of an "IT community". For this purpose we had four meetings with Human Resources specialists from IT companies and we wrote down their opinions in articles published in the Today Software Magazine - three of these articles have appeared in the numbers 11, 13 and 16, the fourth one being the present article.

In this last meeting we extracted a series of conclusions related to the generous subject of Cluj IT industry. In the first part, we established with the participants which would be the main subjects that preoccupy and challenge the Human Resources specialists from the IT organizations - revising the issues discussed in the previous workshops. In the second part of the meeting we sketched what would mean a desirable IT community in Cluj and which were, largely, the specific actions in 2013 that could bring closer the group of companies from Cluj towards the ideal of a community.

The main challenges from 2013 in IT companies

Revising the main subjects discussed in the previous workshops, we observed that the main challenges for the Human Resources specialists from the IT companies, which were stated at the beginning of the year, did not modify significantly in 2013.

Attracting and retaining people in the IT companies

The action of recruiting and retaining people in organizations still represents a challenge and will continue to be this way as long as the ratio between the quantity of projects brought to Cluj and the availability of specialists on the market will continue to be a supra-unitary one, therefore an unbalanced one. In this regard, there are many factors that contribute to this disequilibrium: for example, the technical universities (still) do not have the capacity to provide faster and better prepared employees; the vast majority of IT companies from Cluj are working in this moment on outsourcing projects, which requires a large and fast infusion with projects and, therefore, a large necessity of workforce; the benefits offered to the employees are already large and comparable from one company to another etc. In the same time, this situation represents a "given" which, in turn, creates a series of effects that are positive only on short-term, but possibly negative on the medium or long-term. However, these opinions that belong to us will be presented in the final part of this article.

Professional and personal development activity of the employees from these companies

Regarding the development activity of the people from IT, the Human Resources specialists have to cope with a certain paradoxical situation. On the one hand, when new employees are being recruited, the vast majority state that they want to have as many learning opportunities, trainings and other forms of development as possible. After employment, their interest for this type of development actions - organized in the company or at the community level - decreases abruptly for the vast majority of employees and, unfortunately, at the management level, too.

In case of "soft-skills" development, the interest is even lower than for the "technical courses" domain - but, paradoxically, even at this category, the participation rate is low compared to the possible number of participants. Most of the times, exactly those who should be a model in the direction of lifelong learning and proactive attitude regarding development - the managers - are those who prevent, to a large extent, the development process. The causes can be of many kinds and, although they lead to negative effects, are understandable. For example, in some companies, the costs for trainings (among which the technical ones are significantly higher) are subtracted from the participants" department budget and, most of the times, the managers who should approve the participation of their people, guide themselves solely on immediate business interests (ex. the profit should stay as higher as possible), as the entire company does. In other situations, the managers that lead a certain project, for example, are thinking punctually at the actual needs for development of their people, and a lot less strategically, such as: "what my people should know in the future, in order to ensure a larger flexibility and professionalism in the possible new projects?" Moreover, especially due to the situation described at point 1 - the lack of enough human resources - managers are sometimes forced to refuse the participation of the people to the training, even for a couple of hours, because they cannot finish certain phases of the project, in a short period, with limited resources. Along with all this reluctance that comes from the mangers, the employees do not manifest significant initiatives, requests for participation to various forms of development. Or, when they do participate, the real application rate in daily work is low.

Unfortunately, even though the benefit at the individual level is more than obvious - the diploma, certification, knowledge, abilities belong to that person wherever he/she would go in the future - this argument is not sufficiently valued by the IT employees. It is true that, due to work specifications, there are actions of self-didacticism which are practiced among the IT people, which are necessary and it is good that they are part of their professional behaviour - they help the accomplishment of a good immediate performance (they also "help" in creating an illusion like: "but we learn every day!"). Human Resources people did not manage yet to convince the most of IT employees that lifelong, systematic and strategic development will help them in building a career, not just in accomplishing a "here and now" performance, and if, in a few years, when the competition for professionalism on this market becomes … a real competition, then, those who have grown thoroughly and strategically will be those who will succeed.

We want to mention that these conclusions refer to an average of IT employees and, of course, the punctual cases of passionate and dedicated people who participate in any training / conference etc. are excluded from these affirmations.

***

Starting from these facts that are present in the IT companies from Cluj, we propose to you an exercise: one of the questions that all IT employees would be worth reflecting now, at the beginning of the new year, is: "What would happen if, starting tomorrow, the outsourcing from Cluj would disappear / move to another part? What would happen to me, to my colleagues? What can I do today in order to prevent such a scenario?" - in the strategic thinking theories, such analyses, processes are called risk analyses…

And still … what do we do with the idea of "Cluj IT community"?

A part of the answer to this question was given by the participants to this project in the previous workshop and we invite you to (re)-read the article from number 16 of TSM in which are presented the reasons why a community (not just a group) is necessary at the level of Cluj IT industry and in which are presented some punctual ideas that can contribute to the growth of such a community.

In this last meeting we wanted to lead the discussion to another level of generality and we asked the participants, firstly, to sketch what means an ideal IT community in Cluj (not in Silicon Valley, in India or in other parts… but in CLUJ!). Then, taking into consideration this benchmark, they were asked to assess, from their perspective, which were the steps that were made in 2013 towards this desirable direction.

Therefore, an ideal community, desired by IT at Cluj would mean (Attention! This paragraph represents a dream… Without the courage to dream, there could not be any progress! Anyone is welcomed to add punctual elements in this dream described at this moment by the Human Resources specialists):

  • A major number of "local actors" as entrepreneurs / shareholders in IT companies - in order to have a real interest in development at the local level (regarding this aspect, selling the local companies to multinational companies will make it harder to form a local community and will raise the instability of the IT market)
  • A major percentage from the IT business from Cluj should be "product based"; the outsourcing business should decrease significantly.
  • At the community level, there is a significant number of large projects, on which consortiums of companies, professional freelancers are working all together.
  • The important international clients are determined and attracted to start large projects on the Cluj market, because they have confidence that here they can find the necessary skills to complete their projects. This fact also happens because, abroad, a unitary, positive image/brand of the IT community from Cluj is being promoted as representing a professional, innovative and trustful work potential.
  • The Cluj IT community is supported through concrete actions by the local administration and receives support also from national level.
  • Cluj offers, to potential large clients, palpable evidence of the innovative capacity and of the creative potential of the local specialists. There are, for example, excellent training centres at the Cluj level, private institutions for specialized education, a flexible and anchored in reality university environment, research groups with concrete results etc.
  • The people who work in the Cluj IT (also including entrepreneurs, managers etc) have certain particularities that make them extremely valuable individually, but also in a team: they are passionate about their field, are dedicated to innovation, have a visionary mentality (willing to win less in the short term, in order to build something durable), have courage to take certain risks, are proactive and flexible.

Such a functional community would ensure a "success story" in the local and national economy and would represent a significantly more stable business sector.

If this is the desired target, which were the concrete actions realized in 2013 so that the IT organizations from Cluj go closer to this target? - a target that is still viewed by the Human Resources specialists as being quite far away…

Unfortunately, for those present at the workshop, some clear actions in this direction were not very visible. However, there are a series of initiatives - but they produce too small or not very visible effects at the Cluj community level. For example:

  • The association with the biggest possible positive impact in the direction of creating this ideal community is IT Cluster - about which, however, there is no visible concrete information regarding the advancement in the direction of some palpable results. It is known that a series of actions were initiated with universities and national authorities. However, at this moment no concrete results are seen.
  • On the IT market, a series of technical events happened this year - with the aim of professional development and sharing good practices - which represents a good start! Unfortunately, the participation rate to these events has not reached a critical mass that would help creating a pro-community mentality. At such events, conferences, usually participates that minority of ultra-passionate people … but they are a minority.

If we were to synthesize in one paragraph the opinions expressed on the course of this entire year in this research, we could say that the opinion of the HR from the Cluj IT is: at this moment, we are a "on-the-wave industry"; we are fine, we have work to do, we work quite well qualitatively; we have challenges regarding the number of specialists in the domain and regarding the development of the employees - however these are not too acute "pains"; we dream beautifully at an IT community in Cluj about which we know that it would have quite a lot of benefits, but, at this moment, there is not enough drive towards this strategic way of working.

An opinion from the outside

At the end of this initiative started by our team - Danis Consulting - we considered appropriate to express a series of our opinions regarding all these radiographs made on the Cluj IT market. The opinions that you will find below are not necessarily those of the participants at our workshops or those of the IT people with whom we have collaborated during the last year. We believe that any perspective / point of view can be helpful in making some strategic decisions.

The opinions written below are based on many situations in which we had the opportunity to observe the IT environment in different depictions: the discussions from this research, discussions with managers / entrepreneurs from the Cluj IT field, participations at various events on the Cluj IT market (ex: monthly publication of TSM, IT Days conference), direct collaborations on various development programs with some IT companies etc.

Therefore, how we see certain aspects from the Cluj IT industry:

  • We observed that IT people from Cluj have a very large creative and professionalism potential. We believe that the Cluj IT people are extremely intelligent and capable of good quality results on this global technology and innovation market.
  • At this moment, the situation of the limited human resources on the Cluj market generates a series of negative effects on medium and long term (beyond the stress caused by the recruiting process) - which the important decisional actors should take into consideration and conceive, starting from now, a strategy that could prevent them (maybe people are already working on such strategies; but we have not seen concrete results in this direction). Our recommendation would be to take into consideration the possible risks that could emerge soon and to create strategies to prevent them. Some of these potential negative effects of the disequilibrium between demand and supply on the workforce market could be (on medium and long term):
    • Creating a benefits and remunerations system which is exaggeratedly large - which could not be sustained anymore by the clients in the future, with the danger that clients would reorient to cheaper resources;
    • Lack of applying some real performance standards that could force the creation of good quality projects delivered to the clients. In short, at this moment, if people do not perform at a certain quality (even after warnings, help in development etc.), due to the lack of resources, the probability to be fired and to apply a unitary standard of quality which would maintain a good image in front of the clients is low. On the medium term, this fact is dangerous, because low quality values will be promoted.
    • On a workforce market in which, from the point of view of the candidates, there is almost no competition, the natural regulation mechanisms of non-values do not work, which can lead again to promoting a low quality of performance.
  • We have observed that, for a large majority of employees, there is a tendency to be complacent with the present development stage - which is understandable in the given context. Any person would do the same: he/she receives very good incomes starting from the first job, there are no risks to remain without a job, nobody is doing anything that could annoy him in order to prevent him from leaving - then, why would someone bother now with personal development? We perfectly understand this attitude; however we believe that it is a dangerous trap, which the IT employees are getting in. It would be very useful for the companies" leaders to move the emphasis on the qualitative growth inside the business that they are leading now and less on the quantitative growth of the business (this strategy can also include moving from an outsourcing business to a product-based business, which implies initial investments, maybe even financial loses until results will be obtained). Therefore, what will happen to this large group of people in a few years if the outsourcing business does not survive in Cluj? There will be a large group of unemployed people who will suffer a great decline in their life standards, with reduced abilities to adapt to other standards (which are harsher for sure), without a career plan. Or they will emigrate…
  • In order to create a Cluj IT community - a desideratum which we are convinced that would be the best thing that could happen to the local economy and to each particular company, therefore a "win-win" situation - we think that, at this moment, the main factor that is braking this accomplishment is NOT the economic facilities or the support from the authorities (they also have a role, but not a vital one). We consider that the main brake is the mentality: at this moment, each company, individually, is functioning sufficiently well and it is hard for them to think "what to do in order for ALL of us to function well in the future"? Also, we believe that a significant group of local leaders is necessary (not multinational companies that have bought the local organizations), who are really dedicated to the idea of a Cluj IT community, who could create rapidly a strategic vision for this idea and, with enough enthusiasm and action, to inspire all those people who are involved in this community! After the first steps were made, the positive drive would propagate fast enough; because we noticed that, in the IT industry, the powerful leaders are appreciated and followed without any problems.

We are aware that some of our opinions can cause controversies - which, in fact, would make us very glad! It is better to have debates and exchanges of ideas, than a state of idleness like: "we do not bother with anything".

In conclusion: it is known what the IT community from Cluj could look like (as a benchmark). In 2013, the concrete steps made in this direction were, unfortunately, extremely weak, eventually some formal appreciations. At a certain moment, someone may ask why this action was not made in the past. We do not want it? We cannot do it?

***

We wish to thank all the people who, during this year, honoured us with their presence at this initiative of discussions - without any direct benefit, being motivated solely by the desire to contribute in a constructive manner!

***

We hope that our entire action - with all the information published, visible for anyone who is interested - will be helpful to those who have decision power on this IT market from Cluj and that they will be interested to transform a happy opportunity in an economical success story for Cluj and for Romania, demonstrating that "it is possible for us, too!" !

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