IT Careers 2020: Cloudy Days Ahead

Welcome to the IT organization of the year 2020 -- and brace yourself, because it's a far cry from the department you find yourself in today.

Welcome to the IT organization of the year 2020 -- and brace yourself, because it's a far cry from the department you find yourself in today.

Computer programmers have gone the way of the typing pool. So have one-dimensional technology specialists like network engineers. Deeply technical professionals with multiple certifications in virtualization, networking and security technologies work primarily as component engineers and IT architects. Job titles include cloud architect, cloud capacity planner, cloud infrastructure administrator and integration architect.

The people who work in these roles design and maintain the underlying framework or architecture. On top of this architecture sits a shifting inventory of cloud services, plug-and-play Web-based applications and easy-to-use proprietary software components that together represent the key source of a company's competitive advantage.

How these various components will be innovatively mixed and matched will largely be decided by marketing, supply chain and other business functions and divisions that will be guided by a second tier of IT professionals: super-IT-savvy business experts who reside in the business.

They don't build software, but they work with the business to invent new products and services. They also assemble the software components needed to bring those offerings to market. They have titles like business systems analyst and business solutions consultant.

Sound far-fetched? It's only 2010, but already, the savviest companies are well along the path of implementing this kind of two-tiered IT workforce structure.

"2020 is already here," says Ian Patterson, CIO at St. Louis-based Scottrade. There, the IT organization includes project managers and business analysts with deep analytical and communication skills, and technical architects, who make sure "we don't step on ourselves by doing something that will negatively impact the business from a technology standpoint," Patterson says.

Going forward, CIOs and IT employment experts predict that this bifurcation of IT roles will vastly accelerate, with most professionals falling into one of two major categories: technical specialists and business specialists.

Tier 1: Tech Specialists

Technical specialists are the people who work in a centralized IT or business services organization. If you want to work here, you need to know about data standards, information standards, virtualization, networks, mobile technology and IT architecture, among other things. "You need to get skilled in emerging technologies and develop a deep technical skill set," says Mark O'Gara, vice president of infrastructure at Highmark Inc., a health insurer in Harrisburg, Pa.

Overall, this organization will have far fewer people than today's IT department, but these workers will have an extremely rich set of technical skills, and they will understand precisely how their business makes and loses money and how all transactions flow through the enterprise.

This is where the enterprise's overall business process and technology architecture will be maintained. The infrastructure will be made up of multiple services furnished by a variety of outside suppliers, coupled with software components that were designed both externally and in-house and that are extremely intuitive and easy for various business functions to assemble and use competitively.

As business units put together these applications, "the critical role the IT department will play is ensuring that business value is not lost through fragmentation," says Andrew Morlet, global director of the strategy and transformation practice at IT consultancy Accenture PLC.

"IT will play a central coordinating role that protects the interests of the entire enterprise over the divisions themselves."

Cummins Inc., a worldwide supplier of diesel engines that's based in Columbus, Ind., is in the process of completing a major restructuring of IT. CIO Bruce Carver estimates that in the end, "only about 5% of IT roles will be purely IT, and these roles will be few and far between."

Cummins' centralized IT department is staffed by technical experts charged with creating standards and structure and managing the overall cost of the IT function. This is the home of the IT architecture group -- and architect is fast becoming the hottest role in IT.

Another services and support group is made up of third-party service providers and a limited number of Cummins employees. All other employees are business specialists in what Cummins calls "business-facing roles."

All indications are that by 2020, a big chunk of technical specialists' work will involve integrating a broader array of technologies and services into the overall enterprise infrastructure, CIOs say. That's why a broader set of networking, software, virtualization and other skills will be required.

This trend hasn't been lost on vendors like EMC Corp., which is developing a cloud certification to complement its storage certification.

Additionally, EMC is working with its security division, RSA, and virtualization vendor VMware Inc. to develop multidisciplinary certifications for technical specialists, says Tom Clancy, vice president of education services and productivity at EMC.

New roles for IT shops and pros

Do you think your current IT job function will exist in 2020?

  • Yes: 57%
  • Yes, but it will have changed dramatically: 26%
  • Not likely: 7%
  • No: 10%

In 2020, will there be a traditional IT department as we now know it?

  • Yes, there will be an IT department as we now know it: 9%
  • Yes, the functions of the IT department will change only slightly by the year 2020: 27%
  • No, the IT department will become a dramatically different kind of operation by the year 2020: 48%
  • No, the stand-alone IT department won't exist at all by the year 2020: 11%
  • Other: 3%
  • Don't know: 2%

What do you think the IT shop of 2020 will look like?

  • IT will be fully embedded in the business units: 16%
  • IT will be a two-tiered organization, with some people embedded in business departments and other strictly technically-focused people within a smaller IT department: 62%
  • IT will be a career backwater of IT/technical specialists: 9%
  • IT won't exist as a stand-alone department: 7%
  • Other: 6%

Source: Exclusive Computerworld survey of 465 IT professionals, July 2010

Tier 2: Business Specialists

The work of business specialists is matching the right IT tool to the business need at hand. These are super-IT-savvy business experts who understand how the business works, how transactions flow, what makes and loses money for the company, and where and how technology can help or hinder the business.

As futurist and Computerworld columnist Thornton A. May sees it, this is where the upwardly mobile career action is, as well as the greatest coolness factor.

"IT's future revolves along three interrelated dimensions," May says, all of which converge in this IT career track. Those dimensions are innovation, which he defines as the ability to convert ideas into money; business analytics, which involves operations research, data mining, data integration, reporting and statistics; and risk management, which requires a keen knowledge of business processes.

This is one of the best areas to look for work if your job is being automated or outsourced. "Each of these critical disciplines promises good future career opportunities," May says.

Regarding educational degrees, May anticipates a new breed of sheepskin, one that reflects both business knowledge and statistical analysis expertise.

Business specialists will play a leading role in various business functions, performing work that today can often only be performed in IT, says Tim Ferrarell, CIO at Chicago-based industrial distributor W.W. Grainger Inc.

In 2020, "technology will be easier to use. Therefore, it will be more prevalent in other parts of the business and not just the purview of IT," says Ferrarell. "We're more and more attracting and rotating people through business and IT functions so people understand how technology can be used to serve customers better. It's about having employees who are versatile and who know various technologies and business processes. It makes us more flexible and reduces risks. Rotation creates versatility."

Megatrends 2020

As IT operations become inextricably linked with business operations, it seems likely that whatever big trends affect the business will have ramifications for IT.

Business trend: Big businesses will get bigger. Small businesses will survive. And midsize businesses will be squeezed out. Expect more mergers and acquisitions.

IT implications: IT professionals will work for either very big companies or very small ones. And IT vendors will be either giants or boutiques.

Business trend: Government regulations will take up a growing portion of management's time and effort.

IT implications: Even more IT work will be devoted to regulatory compliance and audits.

Business trend: Consumers will expect "social responsibility" from companies they do business with.

IT implications: IT professionals will need to help their employers meet consumer expectations for ethical behavior, honest accounting, privacy safeguards and green IT.

Business trend: The product design and marketing cycle -- from the time a product is invented to the time it's imitated -- is shrinking rapidly.

IT implications: IT shops, which are increasingly involved in new-product development, will need to help the company get products to market at warp speed.

Sources: Business trends adapted from a report by Forecasting International Ltd., excerpted in The Futurist magazine (July-August 2010). IT implications by Mitch Betts.

More predictions: A sneak preview of enterprise IT in 2020

Many CIOs share the view that the emerging job title of business specialist is an indication that IT roles are moving up the value chain.

Peering into the crystal ball

Computerworld asked IT leaders across a wide swath of industries for their boldest predictions about the IT organization of 2020. Here's a sampling of their responses:

People who are purely involved in technology operations -- the "run" part of the business -- will be outsourced over time. These are the people who will find jobs with service providers. -- Andrew Morlet, global director, strategy and transformation practice, Accenture PLC

A lot more things that we do today inside the technology function will be able to be done outside the technology function. The real techies will go to the vendors and service providers. -- Tim Ferrarell, CIO, W.W. Grainger Inc.

The IT environment at user companies will shrink, and the new IT tasks will be much more aligned with using technology in the business rather than creating technology. -- Ken Harris, CIO, Shaklee Corp.

"The IT role becomes much more about how to use technology to help the business rather than how we provide the technology," says Ken Harris, CIO at Shaklee Corp., a nutritional products company in Pleasanton, Calif.

At Boston-based financial services company State Street Corp., CIO Chris Perretta says that with a two-tiered IT workforce, "there are opportunities for our IT personnel to take much more of a leadership position on how business processes are designed in the long term."

State Street is formally defining the skill sets it wants in its workforce, says Perretta. Architectural skills are absolutely critical, and for pure technologists, "there's an opportunity to go much deeper into technology."

For those "with more of a business solutions bent, there is an opportunity to get upstream a lot farther," he says.

Harris puts it this way: "When IT people move out into the business, IT moves up the value chain," because it moves closer to the customer and closer to the revenue line. "Within the IT department, all the remaining IT roles require a higher level of proficiency," he says.

Ken Spangler, CIO at FedEx Ground, says his company has historically focused on the role of business specialists in managing large, complex projects. But going forward, it will further sharpen this focus, dedicating those experts to business functions so they can come up with technology solutions to business problems early on, before they have a chance to evolve into large projects.

"The transformation is well under way," he says.

This story, "IT Careers 2020: Cloudy Days Ahead" was originally published by Computerworld.


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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