Why Soft Skills Are Now Core Skills For IT

Posted by Dave Reyburn on Dec 8, 2021 3:33 PM

Why Soft Skills Are Now Core Skills For IT

This is the first article in our series “The Human Side of Modernization.” In this article, we’ll explain what soft IT skills are, why they’re essential to the success of any project or organization, and how to develop or sharpen them.

As the pandemic continues its slow retreat, companies from global giants to family-owned SBEs are moving to modernize their EDI and B2B integration environments.

They’re looking for solutions that speed time to market, reduce fines and errors,
improve the customer/trading partner experience and help them find a competitive edge.

When leaders from IT, operations, and finance plan these projects, they understandably focus on technical issues such as the location of servers and databases and questions about security in the cloud.

What they sometimes overlook until deep into the process is whether the migration team brings the right blend of technical and interpersonal skills to the hundreds if not thousands of tasks involved.

What happens when the team lacks these skills? The picture isn’t pretty.

Miscommunication can plague projects, and lead to internal and external friction, missed deadlines, and sub-optimal performance.

Worse, if these outcomes impact customers and trading partners, the company and project leaders can suffer serious reputation damage.

What Are Soft IT Skills?

In a recent survey of more than 25 million online job postings, Burning Glass Technologies found that among IT listings, one in four of the most sought-after skills were soft skills.

Perhaps the reason they’re rising in value is because, unlike business processes, soft IT skills can’t be automated.

While soft skills for IT professionals are generally the same ones that help professionals in other fields, the following skills are more urgently needed in the IT space because of the modern economy’s reliance on highly integrated digital technology:

Communication: Whether it’s writing an email or addressing department leaders face to face in a budget meeting, your goal is to help non-technical users understand two things: What the technology does and why adopting it benefits them and the company.

Successful EDI and integration professionals avoid obscure jargon and use common words to explain complex technical processes and new concepts.

In a post from the Harvard Extension School, Ben Gaucherin, head of IT campus services for Harvard says, “The people who will thrive are the strong technologists who are capable of translating their expertise into terms that nontechnical people can understand.”

Creativity: Increasingly business problems often call for technical solutions that either don’t exist yet or new ways to use existing technology. The companies that hire people who can brainstorm “what-if” scenarios and follow up with feasible technical solutions will be able to adapt to the volatility of the digital economy more easily, as well as respond more quickly to its opportunities.

Determination: Modernization projects can and will get stalled or hit speedbumps for a variety of reasons—financial problems, issues with vendors or teamwork, or problems with software to name only a few. And while a realistic budget and timeline will set the stage for success, seeing big, transformative initiatives through to the go-live date requires leaders and doers with resilience and drive.

Flexibility: You’re probably seeing a pattern here— like any kind of skill, soft IT skills build on and complement each other. Flexibility naturally enhances determination because IT leaders often face unexpected changes or setbacks.

Being flexible enough to accept them and find creative solutions will increase the likelihood of success and reduce your levels of stress and frustration.

Leadership: Even if you’re not in an official leadership role, you may be asked to lead a project or a team. When that happens, you’ll need to be able to communicate and delegate effectively.

Negotiation: From selling your idea to your organization to collaborating with contractors and vendors involved in the project, it’s critical to be able to come to an agreement that satisfies both sides.

From online courses offered by LinkedIn Learning Solutions to a range of best-selling titles, anyone willing to invest a few hours of their time can learn to negotiate more effectively.

Presentation: Whether it’s a one-on-one meeting or presenting a slide deck to an entire department, even the best idea in the world will die on the vine if you can’t convey it effectively. See the next section for ways you can improve your presentation skills.

Can Soft IT Skills Be Developed?

Developing soft skills is possible but it requires commitment and emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions as well as read and influence the emotions of others.

While popular stereotypes often depict them otherwise, IT leaders with a high degree of EQ are empathetic, listen well, and communicate effectively. Like other professional skills, a self-assessment can highlight what specific EQ skills you or someone on your team might need to work on.

When it comes to communication skills, the more you practice using them, the better they become. And there are tools and techniques you can use to improve.

For example, even if you’re not a natural writer, you can sharpen written communication using Word’s Editor in the Review tab or the Grammarly app. These tools check for spelling and grammar and assign your draft a reading-level score.

Even if your audience is highly educated, always aim for a reading level between 8 – 12th grade.
When you avoid complex sentences and obscure language, you do your audience a favor and create more effective communication.

That’s because short sentences and short paragraphs are easier to scan, understand, and act on.

Introverts and those who are afraid of public speaking can improve their verbal communication and presentation skills in three ways: (1) Practice in front of a mirror. (2) Road-test the presentation content to a safe but honest audience. (3) Observe others who are especially good at presenting and mirror what they do.

Are Soft IT Skills Important When Going Outside for Integration Talent?

Up to this point, we’ve been discussing the importance of soft IT skills in the context of internal EDI and integration teams. Yet, these same skills are even more critical for companies who take the managed integration services or outsourced route.

That’s because the specialist(s) will need to blend well with the in-house team, business leads, and trading partners. Also, if you’re going outside for integration talent, it’s likely because you’re in a situation with high expectations for a great outcome and a low margin for error.

As a company that built our reputation on talent solutions, we don’t want to leave the impression that hard IT skills no longer matter. But in a world that depends more and more on communication and collaboration, they’re no longer enough.

The moral here is, core IT skills—that is, hard skills and soft skills— are critical to the success of modernization, the organization, and last but not least, to career advancement.

Managed Integration Services Mindset