The importance of IT in today’s economy is universally taken for granted. The IT revolution began several decades ago, and since then there have been significant technological advances. The fight for competitive advantage, across all industry sectors, is fierce and the IT department is on the front line. It is vital for IT managers to keep pace with these developments if their businesses are to remain competitive.

There are many examples of IT departments failing to provide businesses with what they need when they need it, often due to a lack of relevant skills. High-profile cases in the UK, going back more than 20 years, demonstrate that IT failures are nothing new.

Classic ‘golden oldies’ include the attempt to transfer the London Stock Exchange from paper-based trading to a computerised system (TAURUS), which was abandoned after 10 years and up to £300 million expenditure. In addition, the unsuccessful London Ambulance Service Computer-Aided Dispatch System cost an estimated £1.5 million.

Long gone are the days when the IT department was a team of experts in a functional area. The move is on for IT professionals to shift from solely focusing on hard skills related to IT; instead, they will also focus on soft skills, a wider array of skills or transferable skills. Communication, project planning, managing expectations, change management and budgeting are now all part of an IT professional’s remit.

CompTIA is the voice of the international IT industry and conducts an annual survey looking at technology and workforce trends across 10 countries. Results of the most recent survey indicate that IT’s importance to business success continues on an upward trend and strategic priorities increasingly include an IT component.

The survey also exposed a number of concerns regarding the availability of skilled IT professionals. For a number of reasons, IT skills gaps remain a challenge for most businesses. More than half of businesses report being concerned about the quality and quantity of IT talent available for hire. Few are exactly where they want to be with staff expertise and experience.

Formal IT qualifications were also highlighted in the survey results, with the majority of businesses expecting IT certifications to increase in importance over the next two years.

Many IT professionals work in multicultural teams within their companies and benefit from the global online classroom. Interestingly, students find that similar workplace-based challenges arise regardless of geographical regions or continents. The ability to share views and expert advice provides students with a unique opportunity to learn from one another through a large network of IT professionals in their programme.

In fact, feedback from my own universities’ online alumni and current online students has revealed that the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise with peers and faculty from around the world is highly beneficial and valuable to their career growth.

For the last few decades, the IT industry has been one of the fastest-moving and most diverse industries to work in, and I expect to see more of its employees avail themselves of the opportunity to further develop their skills and professional qualifications using the very technological advancements they work with on a daily basis.