Trendlines from 3/15/08: New, Hot, Unexpected

In this issue: The executive level job market; Microsoft opens its APIs; How to find a mentor; Staffing in a recession; IT spending eases off; Blackberry tips; and Consumer tech by the numbers.

Demand for Executives Slows

Career Executive-level job seekers beware: Companies are putting the brakes on hiringso much so that executive recruiters' perpetually sunny outlook for the market is waning, according to ExecuNet's Recruiter Confidence Index.

"Over the last three to four years, we've seen double-digit growth in executive hiring," says ExecuNet President Mark Anderson. "Last year, we saw 18 percent growth. This year, we're projecting executive hiring is going to be half that. That's a significant change. It's still growth, but it's much slower."

Less than 50 percent of executive recruiters surveyed in January by the career and business networking organization reported optimism about the executive hiring market. Asked if they thought the market will improve in the next six months, 47 percent were confident or very confident, down from 59 percent in December 2007. Simultaneously, there was a spike in pessimism; 14 percent of executive recruiters said they were not confident, up from 2 percent in January 2007. Respondents were asked to evaluate their level of confidence on a scale: very confident, confident, somewhat confident or not confident.

"That's a significant drop" says Anderson. "People are not moving to feeling somewhat confident.' They're moving to not confident.'"

Executive hiring is driven by two factors: turnover and corporate growth. Executive turnover was high last year and is expected to remain so into 2008, according to Liberum Research. Putting a damper on that growth is the economic slowdown. Companies aren't growing as quickly and that's reducing demand for new executives, says Anderson.

Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of Trilogy Search Non+Profit, thinks 2008 will be a tougher year for executive search firms. However, he doesn't believe it will be as bad as 2002 and 2003. "We're getting a slower start during the first couple of months of the year than we normally would," he says. "Companies are waiting to see what happens with the economy before starting searches."

The slowdown in executive hiring means that candidates will have to execute better on their searches, according to Anderson. Job seekers will have to rely more on networking to uncover opportunities since fewer jobs are available and therefore posted online, he says. They'll also have to better target their search efforts around growth industries, such as health care, and less on those that are contracting, such as banking, real estate and construction. Says Anderson, "Look for where the opportunity is."

ExecuNet's monthly Recruiter Confidence Index survey is conducted online and circulated to executive recruiters via e-mail at both small and large retained and contingency search firms. A total of 238 search professionals responded to the survey in January 2008.

-Meridith Levinson

Microsoft Opens Its APIs to Mixed Reviews

Microsoft's announcement of its strategy to enhance interoperability and openness drew cheers from the software industry, but don't assume the software giant did it out of charity. "This move heads off the competition from open source and open standards," says Nick Selby, director of research operations for The 451 Group.

Microsoft will open connections to high-volume products such as Vista and Server 2008, enhance data portability, better support industry standards and strengthen communication with customers and the industry, including the open-source community. "This is the first recognition [by Microsoft] that an open approach makes business sense," says Selby. He thinks this "sea change" will have a major effect on the open standards and open-source movements.

Microsoft's move to open its APIs is good news for end users, IT and third-party vendors, agrees Matt Asay, VP of business development for Alfresco Software, an open-source alternative for enterprise content management. "This should mean more seamless interoperability with third-party software solutions," he says, including Alfresco's.

However, Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley remains skeptical. "Until Microsoft shows a real change in its behaviors around interoperability, I see pledges like these as little more than the same-old rhetoric," she says in her blog.

Asay disagrees. "It's possible Microsoft will drag its feet. But given the publicity, Microsoft has made it harder to hide behind failed promises. The devil is in the details, but I'm optimistic."

-Diann Daniel

Find Your Perfect Match

Ever wanted a mentor but didn't know where to turn? Enter iMantri, a new social networking website designed to connect mentors with people who seek one.

iMantri provides what cofounder and CEO Satya Iluri calls competency-driven mentoringhelp in areas such as time management, communication, leadership or project management. It also offers goal-driven mentoring, so users who aspire to become CIO, for example, can find a mentor.

Users search profiles of individuals registered with the site to find a mentor, or they can use a proprietary matching engine. The engine hinges on a competency assessment and employs a user's Myers-Briggs personality type to identify an effective mentor. A user who doesn't know his Myers-Briggs personality type is directed to an online test administrator, or he can select the appropriate personality type. The engine also factors in use preferences, such as location. Users can set the frequency of mentor interactions and keep tabs on tasks their mentors assign them.

Not all mentoring on the site is free. Professional coaches who register with the site may charge a fee.

Iluri says the goal is to offer the platform, which is based on XML, Ajax, RPC, Flash and Flex technologies, to enterprises for internal mentoring use. iMantri can connect with other corporate applications, such as an intranet, through API-based Web services.

-Meridith Levinson

Staffing Hurdles

A recession may loom but the war for talent rages on, according a Robert Half Technology survey. CIOs say that landing experienced staff remains challenging. IT leaders at the largest firms (1,000+ employees) are having the greatest difficulty: 24 percent named this their top staffing issue.

"Of the following staffing issues within the IT department, which do you consider to be your greatest challenge?"

  • Finding skilled technology professionals: 24%
  • Providing staff with adequate skills training: 23%
  • Keeping employees productive: 17%
  • Dealing with personality conflicts among employees: 11%
  • Developing defined career paths for IT staff members: 10%
  • None/don't know: 10%

    Source: Robert Half Technology

    IT Spending Eases Off

    Companies are slowing down their technology spending as fears of a U.S. recession take hold in the nation's executive board rooms.

    Twenty-three percent of respondents said their companies will reduce or halt second-quarter IT spending in 2008, according to a study by ChangeWave Research. The investment advice firm surveyed 2,013 people involved with IT spending from Feb. 11 to Feb. 15. Most worked for U.S. companies, with 7 percent coming from Canada, as well as a small number from other nations.

    Only 15 percent said second-quarter spending would increase, a nine-point drop from last November. Just 10 percent reported that first-quarter spending was greater than planned, a fall of seven points. Twenty-seven percent said their companies spent less than planned in the first quarter, a rise of three points.

    Meanwhile, 43 percent said their companies will "green light" second-quarter spending, meaning conditions are normal. But that represents a nine-point drop from the last study. The results are similar across companies of all sizes, according to the data.

    "We're having a tough quarter right now," says ChangeWave Research Director Paul Carton. "Spending is down. That doesn't mean there aren't pockets where things are doing OK." Strong consumer spending could prop up the economy even as business tightens its belt, he says.

    Respondents offered lukewarm forecasts for this year. Only 19 percent expected their IT budget to grow in the second half of 2008; 20 percent predicted it will drop. However, 51 percent believe it will remain the same.

    -Chris Kanaracus

    Tips for Getting Out of a BlackBerry Jam

    Margaret Genet knows BlackBerrys. Though officially dubbed "operations analyst," she's the first Aflac employee to hold the unofficial title of "technology concierge." Her job: Teach executives to be more efficient with mobile devices and applications. "I guarantee if you talk to [Genet] for 15 minutes, she will tell you 30 tricks you didn't know that will save you time," says Aflac CIO Gerald Shields.

    Many of Genet's tips can be found deep inside various user manuals or BlackBerry websites, but who has time to dig? Here's a short list of her advice. (For more, read "Best Blackberry Shortcuts: Aflac's Mobile Guru Shares Tips".)

    >>> Messaging

    In the e-mail inbox, press the S key to search for a sender or a word within a subject line or mail folder regardless of whether the message was sent or received.

    Within the inbox, access the complete list of messages sent by hitting the ALT key followed by the O key. To access the complete list of messages received, hit the ALT key followed by the I key.

    >>> Phone Functions

    Multitask during calls by hitting the BlackBerry menu key and selecting Home Screen. You'll have access to e-mail and other documentsthough most devices don't allow simultaneous voice and data transfer, so Internet access is unavailable while on calls.

    Find specific contacts from your home screen by pressing keys for first and last initials, with a space between them.If more than one contact has the same initials, scroll to the appropriate contact.

    >>> Back to Basics

    To put a device into Standby Mode so keys cannot be pressed while it's not in use, hold down the Mute key for a moment. Undo it by holding Mute for a few seconds. If a BlackBerry malfunctions or freezes, remove the battery and SIM card—if it has one—and wait a few seconds before reinserting.

    (Note: Some tricks may not work on all older BlackBerrys.)

    -Al Sacco

    By the Numbers

    Consumer Tech: CIOs Remain Divided over Adoption and Support

    To support, or not to support? CIOs are asking themselves that question when it comes to consumer or Web 2.0 technologies in the workplace. So far, opinions remain split around this issue, according to a CIO magazine poll of 311 IT decision makers regarding their views on consumer technologies in the enterprise.

    The survey found that two-thirds of respondents offer some type of consumer technology as corporate applications to their employees, mostly IM (50 percent), wikis (30 percent) or blogs (23 percent). Some 29 percent are monitoring the business case for mainstreaming such technologies.

    However, 54 percent of respondents believe consumer applications are "inappropriate for corporate use," while more than a third say they take the draconian measure of shutting down any unsupported technology as soon as they detect it.

    To understand which consumer technologies made IT executives cringe the most, we asked them: Which consumer technologies pose the greatest threat to your organization? A clear consensus emerged on the number-one threat: portable storage devices.

    In fact, 43 percent of respondents believe external hard drives, iPods and USB devices pose the greatest security threat to their organizations. However, other technologies also worry survey respondents. Nearly one in five (18 percent) view consumer e-mail as the greatest consumer tech security threat followed by instant messaging (11 percent), social networking sites (9 percent) and smart phones/PDAs (7 percent).

    Best Practices

    Resist the urge to shut it down. Blocking sites such as Facebook or consumer e-mail like Gmail doesn't stop workers from accessing those applications over their iPhone while at work. Talk to users to find out why they're using a consumer technology. Maybe they're using Facebook to connect with customers.

    Reevaluate usage policies. Dust off that user agreement you've had sitting in your filing cabinet since 1997 and update it to include things like iPhones, Facebook and Skype.

    Trust your users. In the end, employees are measured by their productivity. If they use IM to chat with friends, odds are you'll pick up on it.

    -Laurianne McLaughlan

  • Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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