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Strategies, advice and opinions helping to define and develop the role of IT leaders and their staffs.

IT Talent Wars Strategic Insights

I recently had the pleasure of attending a roundtable with 13 senior IT executives to talk about “Winning the IT Talent Wars”. The event was produced by The IT Media Group and was sponsored by Salesforce. The discussion focussed on attracting and retaining top talent in today’s challenging environment. The conversations yielded surprising insights that both businesses and IT vendors would do well to heed in the war for talent. In this article, I will summarize the critical factors that define top talent and the calls to action to hire that talent and keep it.

Hiring Talent

All in attendance agreed that soft skills are more desirable than technology skills. The fundamentals of technology are considered the table-stakes, but soft skills increase the pot significantly. Unfortunately, the needed soft-skills are correspondingly more difficult to find.  Businesses need IT professionals who can:

-          Empathize with issues of the end-user

-          Convince the business to do the right thing

-          Drive transformation by taking a project from proposal through to completion

To make matters more complicated, the available talent spans four generations that have vastly different motivations and loyalties to your company.  When recruiting new talent, IT executives need to be aware of what makes each generation tick. What may work for Baby Boomers and Gen X may not attract Gen Y and the Millennials. This will require a measured approach to acquiring talent for your company. Move the pendulum too far towards Millennials and you risk alienating the majority of your workforce, move it too far away and you risk missing out on the next generation of IT professionals as your Boomers retire.

Another common theme focussed on company culture. Attendees agreed that the development of a consistent company culture that appeals to multiple generations is better than a company strategy. It is already difficult to attract talent due to the long hours and relatively low IT employee satisfaction scores.  A culture that fosters teamwork, collegiality, and philanthropy is one that will attract talented individuals to your company.

Participants were asked whether there were any hot technology skills in addition to the soft skills. It didn’t take long before the group bemoaned the complexity of having to manage salary pay-bands for skills that were “hot” and those that were “not”. Managers need the flexibility to go outside of approved pay limits to acquire scarce talent and they also have to ensure that they can ratchet that compensation back when the skills become more commoditized.  It is a difficult balancing act and there was general consensus that companies could simply outsource high-demand skills to IT vendors to avoid the head-aches.

Keeping Talent

Now that you have acquired the talent, how do you keep it? Attendees agreed that great organizations develop talent and encourage loyalty. It is possible to build new business and technical skills if you have the right people. It is important to develop the talent that you already have by identifying it, nurturing it, and investing in it.

Participants indicated that investment in training and allowing their employees to explore other opportunities within the company actually improved retention. While the employee’s market value increased, their loyalty to the company also increased, which kept them engaged and productive. By exposing your top talent to different technologies and business processes, they are able to develop their overall acumen that will provide significant dividends for your company.

Senior managers need to invest their time in coaching, mentoring, and career development. This is especially important as the company transitions to the next wave of Millennials who are looking for challenges and opportunities to make a difference.  IT executives need to somehow find the time to make themselves available to foster the culture that attracted the top talent to their company in the first place. The relationships and networks that are developed will last a lifetime and will be leveraged time and again through the entire career lifecycle.

Calls to Action

Attracting and retaining talent is no easy feat for the busy IT executive. Heavy lifting is required to transform your organization into an efficient talent factory, but the dividends will be well worth the effort. Due to the vast amounts of changes occurring in the IT world, companies cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while their competitors take advantage of the available talent. I offer the following action plan to be considered as part of your corporate strategy to win the IT talent wars.

1. Augment your hiring process to identify and validate the soft-skills your organization needs.  Once those skills are determined, then add due diligence to confirm that the fundamental technology and business skills are also present. I recommend a combination of behavioral and case based interviewing techniques. This approach requires some investment in training and development, as well as an investment in time, but the reward will be significant

2. For entry level talent, let the top universities do the hard work of finding and producing your next wave of employees. By using this approach, new grads will come prepared with the learning skills and habits that got them through university and now all you have to do is hire them. A formalized co-op program and commitment to on-campus recruiting will allow your company to compete for the same talent pool that the world’s top innovators have already tapped into.

3. Implement a talent management program that identifies high-potential employees and guides them through opportunities to learn and grow within your organization. This can be accomplished by formalized employee ranking, training, and mentorship programs. This will also require a change in mindset for some managers so that the development of future leaders of your company becomes a priority.

4. Make use of your 360-degree feedback mechanisms to understand how your employees are feeling. Ensure that action plans are created and managed that increase employee engagement and address your employees’ concerns. In addition, use the responses you receive as learning opportunities for your managers to improve their people management and leadership skills.  You can also incorporate employee feedback as promotion criteria for the next generation of leaders.  

5. For hard to find skills and solutions, be prepared to use IT vendors or outsourcers. Ensure that your team has the experience and acumen to leverage the IT vendor effectively, otherwise you’ll run the risk of spending vast amounts of money for little in return.

I hope that this article has provided enough ammunition for you to win your next few battles for top talent. It has been my experience that when used effectively, these approaches lay the groundwork for high performing teams that produce sustainable long-lasting results.


Jeff Ishii is a senior technology executive with a wealth of experience in management consulting, services delivery and operations at Fortune 500 companies.

Past Attendees

ADP - VP Architecture & Infrastructure

AESO - VP, Information Technology

Agnico Eagle Mines - VP, IT

Agrium - Global Mgr., IT Security

Agrium - Senior Director IT Shared Services

Aimia - SVP & Global CIO

Ainsworth Engineered - Director IT

Air Canada Vacations - Director IT

Alberta Energy Regulator - Director, Office of the CIO

Anthem Properties - VP IS

AON Risk Solutions Canada - Head of IT

Avison Young - VP Global Enterprise Architecture & Integration

Aviva Canada - VP, Architecture & Strategy

Bank of America Merrill Lynch - CTO

BC Ferry Services - VP & CIO

Bell Business Markets - Director, Strategy & Planning

Bell Canada - National Director, Digital Transformation

Bellatrix Exploration - Director, Information Technology

Bentall Kennedy - VP IT


BFL CANADA - Director, Cybersecurity & IT Risk Management

Black Press - CTO

BlackBerry - VP Corporate IT

BMO Financial Group - Director, Technology & Operations Transformation

BMO Financial Group - Head of Services Delivery

Bombardier Aerospace - CISO

Bonavista Petroleum - Head of IT

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP - Global CIO

Bow Valley College - Director, IT Services

Bridgewater Bank - Head of IT

BuildDirect - VP IT

Bulk Barn - Head, IT

Burnco - CIO

Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec - VP, IT Planning, Architecture, Governance, Operations

Calfrac Well Services - Head of IT

Canada Goose - CTO

Canada Live - VP of Technology

Canada Mortgage and Housing - VP, Information & Technology

Canada Protection Plan - Head of IT

Canadian Depository for Securities - CIO

Canadian Direct Insurance - CTO

Canadian Payments Association - VP & CIO

Canucks Sports - Head of IT

Capgemini - Service Delivery Director


Cardel Homes - VP MIS

Cargojet - CIO

CBI Health Group - CIO

CCS Corp. - VP IT

CDSPI - Board Director

Centerra Gold - Director IT & Comm

CI Global Asset Management - VP of Enterprise Infrastructure $amp; Operations

CIBC - Senior Director, Infrastructure Planning & Engineering

CIBC - SVP & CIO, Retail and Business Banking Technology

CIBC Mellon - AVP, Enterprise Architecture

CIBC Mellon - SVP & CIO

Cineplex Entertainment - CTO

City of Brampton - Senior Manager, IT Architecture & Planning

City of Richmond Hill - CIO

City of Toronto - Director of Strategic Planning & Architecture

CN Rail Service - Chief Information Security Officer

Coast Capital Savings - VP Technology

Colliers - Head of Technology & Data

Concordia University - AVP & CIO

Crescent Point Energy - Head of IT

Dairy Farmers of Ontario - Head of IT and Administration

Dale Parizeau Morris Mackenzie - VP, IT

Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP - Director, Information Technology

DealerTrack Canada - Director, Technology

Defence Construction Canada - Corporate Manager, IT

Deloitte - Director, Risk Advisory

Dentons - Canada CIO

Devon Energy - Director, Integrated Business Services

Direct Cash - VP IT & Security

Dynamic Tire Corp - CIO

D+H Partnership - VP, Head of Canadian Mortgage Technology

eHealth - EVP, Technology

eHealth Ontario - VP, IT Systems & Services

Encana - Director, InfoSec

Enbridge Inc. - VP, Technology and Information Services

Enerflex - CIO

Enerplus - VP. IS


Equitable Bank - CIO

Equitable Bank - CISO

Equity Financial Trust - VP, IT

Essential Energy Services - Director, IT

Expedia Cruise Ship Centers - VP IS

FGL Sports - VP, Information Technology

Finastra - SVP, Head Technology Managed Services

Fix Auto Canada - COO & SVP - CIO

Freedom Mobile - Head, Customer Applications, Experience, & Strategy

FT Services - CIO

FundServ - CIO

Genus Capital Management - CTO

Genworth Financial Inc. - VP IT

Geotab - Board Member

Golder Associates - CTO

Gran Tierra Energy - Director IT

Grant Thornton LLP - CIO

Grand River Hospital - Director, Data Governance & Analytics

Greenwin Inc - VP, Information Technology

Groupe Dynamite - Director, IT

GSK Canada - IT Director

GTAA - Acting CIO

H&R Block Canada - VP IT

Haventree Bank - VP, Technology

Hewitt Equipment Ltd. - VP & CIO

Hitachi Vantara - GVP & Global CTO

Home Trust Company - CIO

Home Trust Company - CTO

Home Trust Company - VP & CISO

Horizon North Logistics - CIO

HSB Canada - VP IT

IBM Canada - Associate Partner, Payments Industry

Indigo Books and Music - CIO

Interac Corp - Director, Platform Engineering

ivari - SVP & CIO

JP Morgan Chase Canada - Executive Director, Information Risk Management

Keyera Energy - Director, Information Technology

KFC Canada - CTO

KnowledgeOne - CIO

LaFarge Canada - Director, IT

Landmark Cinemas Canada - VP, IT


LCBO - Director, Applications Systems


Leisureworld Senior Care Corp - VP IS

Lifeguard Digital Health - Chief Security & Informatics Officer

Loblaw Companies Ltd - Senior Director, Customer Engagement Technology

London Drugs - GM IT

Loto-Quebec - Corporate Director, InfoSec

Magna International Inc - VP & Global Leader, IT (CIO)

Manulife - Global Head of Private Markets & Real Estate Technology

March Networks - VP Professional Services & CIO

MaRS Discovery District - Managing Director, Fintech and Commerce

McCain Foods Limited - Manager InfoSec

McInnis Cement - Director of Information Technology

Medical Pharmacies Group - VP, Information Technology

MEG Energy - Manager, Information Technology Solutions & Services

Metrolinx - EVP & CIO

Minto Group - VP IT

MMM Group - CIO

Montreal Police Service - CIO

Morguard Investments - CIO

Moulding & Millwork - CIO

MullenLowe Group - Global CIO

National Bank of Canada - Information Security Officer

National Capital Commission - Chief, IT infrastructure & Support Services

NHL Players' Association - Head, Security & Technology

Northbridge Financial Corp - CIO

OEC Group Canada - Vice President, Information Technology and Client solutions


Oildex - VP, Architecture & Infrastructure

OPTrust - AVP, Enterprise Data Services

Olympia Financial Group - CIO

OMERS - EVP, Data & Technology


OMERS - SVP, Data & Advanced Analytics

Ontario Pension Board - CTO

Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan - SVP, Product & Delivery

Ontario Trillium Foundation - CIO

Osum Oil Sands Corp - Manager, IS

Ottawa Police Service - CIO

Pacific Western Transportation - CIO

Packers Plus - Global IT Director

Pason Systems - Manager, Digital Communications & Corporate IT

Patient News - CTO

Peel District School Board - CIO

Pengrowth Corp - Director IS

Penn West Exploration - Snr. Manager, IT Operations

Peterson Investment Group - Head of IT

PFB Corp. - CIO

Pizza Pizza - CIO & VP, IT

Precision Drilling - VP, IT

Precision Drilling - Director, IT Infrastructure & Security

PSP Investments - Snr. Director, Internal Audit & Business Infosec

Public Works and Government Services Canada - Director, IT Security Directorate

PwC - Managing Director, Real Estate Technology Advisory

Pythian - CTO

Qantas - Global CIO

Queen's University - Director, Information Technology

RBC Royal Bank - Head of Application Security, Data Protection & Security Consulting

RBC Royal Bank - VP, Technology Platforms & Risk Management

RBC Royal Bank - Global Cybersecurity VP

Regal Lifestyle Communities - CIO

Revera Inc. - CIO

Revera Inc. - Security Architect

Rheem Manufacturing - CISO & Enterprise Architect

Ricoh Canada - VP,IT

RioCan Property Services - VP IT

Roche - Head of IT Americas – Operations

Rogers Communications - SVP, Customer Experience IT


Russel Metals - VP,IS

Salvation Army Canada - Board Director

SCI Group - CIO

Scotiabank - Head, Systems Architecture & Platform Modernization

Scotiabank - VP - International Systems Technology

Scotiabank - Head, System Architecture & Platform Modernization

Scotiabank - Global Head, GBM Compliance & Transformation

Sears Canada - Divisional VP, Information Technology Services

Secure Energy Services - GM, IT

Shaw - Head, Customer Applications, Experience, & Strategy

Shaw Communications - VP, Technology Operations

Shaw Communications - Director, Risk Management

SMART Technologies - Director, IS Corporate Services

Smartcentres - Director IS, IT

SmartOne Solutions - President & CIO

Societe de Transport de Montreal - Division Head - Security and Compliance

Street Capital Financial - CIO

Sun Life Financial - AVP, Data & Business Intelligence Services

Sun Life Financial - VP Application Ops & Services

Sunco Communication - COO

Suncor Energy Inc. - Director, Application Portfolio Optimization, I&PM, Business Services

Symcor - CTO, VP Technology Services

Talisman Energy - SVP IT & Business Services

TD Bank - Enterprise Architect

Teknion - SVP, CIO

TELUS - Chief Security Architect

Tervita Corporation - VP, Information Technology

The Hudsons Bay Company - VP Technology

The Hudson's Bay Company - SVP & CIO

The Source - VP, Information Technology

TMX Group - CISO & Global Head of Infrastructure Services

Toromont Industries - VP & CIO

Toronto District School Board - Chief Technology Officer

Toronto Hospital for Sick Children - Director of Technology

Toronto Parking Authority - CIO

Toronto Police Services - CISO

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) - Chief Enterprise Architect

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) - CIO

Toyota Canada - National Manager, IS

Transamerica Life Canada - CIO

Trican Well Services Ltd. - Director, Business Information Systems

Tridel Corporation - CIO

Trillium Health Partners - IT Director, Applications & Clinical Informatics

UFA Cooperative - VP & CIO

University of Calgary - Executive Director, Development Services

University of Ottawa - CIO

University of Ottawa - Senior Director IT Services & Infrastructure

University of Toronto - Director, Centre for Management & Technology

University of Waterloo - Director, Technology Entrepreneurship

Valencia Risk - Managing Director

Vancity - VP Technology & Solutions

Viterra - Director Enterprise Technology

Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company - Director of Innovation Outpost

World Health - Director IT

Wolseley Canada - CIO & COO

WSIB - Board Director

Yellow Pages Group - Director - Enterprise Data Management

York Region District School Board - CIO

York University - Board Director

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