CIOs can lead business tech reskilling

Business technology leaders should learn from the troubles of Thomas Cook and ensure that everyone in the business is developing technology skills

Across the globe the demise of the holiday and travel company Thomas Cook is having an impact. Holiday makers are unable to get home, hoteliers expecting patrons now need to find new customers, suppliers have unpaid bills and now face the prospect of protracted wrangling to receive revenues owed. In amongst all of this are the Thomas Cook employees who have lost their jobs.

In the pre-internet era, Thomas Cook had a tagline that was well known, "Don't book it, Thomas Cook it," sadly that saying can now be turned on its head, "Don't Thomas Cook it". Why, because Thomas Cook is possibly a harbinger of how failing to recognise the impact of  technology and tech-led culture change on an organisation. A multitude of factors - it is usually the case - grounded Thomas Cook flights and ended travellers holidays - these range from the worrying impact of Brexit on the UK and European economy, leadership issues and the failure to respond to the change in consumer behaviour. 

For business technology leaders, Thomas Cook should act as the canary in the mine. Could Thomas Cook have survived if it had become something else? Were opportunities to intercept the new arrivals missed? Should legacy businesses embrace and partner with the new era of travel represented by the poster children AirBNB and Uber? The answer is probably yes. I have no doubt that there are many at Thomas Cook that tried to take the company on the same journey as the modern customer. Sadly the last week has demonstrated that Thomas Cook ran out of runway.

There will be a lot of anger and blame over the coming months. For CIOs and CTOs in every sector and in every geography this is a time to look at Thomas Cook as an opportunity to learn, and to ensure that everyone in your organisation is prepared for changing market behaviours, and therefore everyone in the organisation can help the business respond to those same changes.

Organisations have to continually invest in their people. In today's digital economy it is imperative that staff are given opportunities to learn, develop, train and provide new ideas. Staff members need space to experiment, to challenge the organisation and themselves. Whether you call it a firebreak, hackathon, 10% time or cross-functional teams, each and every one of these methods works because they allow organisations to open their minds and consider the alternatives. 

An organisation that reskills and gives time to rethink is able to see and respond to changes in the market dynamic. Organisations must be truly democratic in providing reskilling opportunities. I am deeply concerned that the best, new tech-oriented opportunities are being hoarded in the cities where the bright young things live. There are bright young (and not so young) talents in your organisations in each and every location, make sure they have as much opportunity as anyone young and based in the capital.

CIOs and CTOs are well placed in organisations to lead the reskilling agenda and in doing so they are future proofing the organisation they lead business technology for, but also the livelihoods of those that work there.

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