The New IT Department: The Top Three Positions You Need

The internal IT staff is back. People with business skills are most valuable—and the hardest to find.

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Zwieg of Northwestern Mutual currently has a handful of employees working as relationship managers, but each one's role is a little different. He's hired most from within his IT department, some having moved up from project management into relationship management. "Part of the key to being a good relationship manager is the acquisition of the skills required to work with the business, like marketing and communications," he says. Zwieg also tries to give relationship managers—or potential relationship managers—the opportunity to develop their functional knowledge through rotational programs in business areas or by allowing personal development time to complete training programs within the business. Right now, Zwieg (who oversees an internal staff of 1,100) offers such enrichment opportunities on a case-by-case basis—typically, after successful project efforts. But, he says, "I see a much stronger need for this kind of cross-pollination between business and IT in the future."

The bilingual business analyst

Systems analysts have been around for years, most often working in conjunction with application development professionals to convert business requirements into technical specifications for systems. But application development skills (one of the top three hiring needs for CIOs today, according to our survey) have changed. What CIOs increasingly demand is a business analyst—someone who can use a rich knowledge of the business end of things to develop applications that actually work well for the business.

Though business analysts share soft skills with the more senior relationship managers, these professionals spend most of their time in the role of translator between business process owners and application developers. Business analysts focus on specific projects, while relationship managers take the enterprise perspective.

McCampbell of Immucor recently brought in two new senior business analysts to support his company's finance department. Rajneesh Sharma and Verna Bush actually sit in the finance building, although they report to McCampbell's director of development. Sharma is more technically minded by nature (he's a programming whiz) but also has an MBA. Bush has a business background (she was a consultant) and a strong understanding of finance and systems. "Between the two of them, they make quite a tag team," McCampbell says. The combination of skills is not something he might have looked for—or found—a few years ago. "Analysts used to be either technical or functional, but now they can do it all," he says. Both employees are bilingual, not only in the sense that they're conversant in languages of business and technology but also in the literal sense. Sharma speaks Hindi, while Bush speaks Finnish (plus a little German). McCampbell finds foreign language skills increasingly valuable (others on staff speak Bosnian, Cantonese, French, Gujarati, Italian, Japanese and Urdu) since Immucor has locations and users in eight countries. He's also found that analysts with command of a second language tend to have better communication skills across the board.

Determining compensation for the two senior business analysts was difficult—not because there's a lack of benchmarks but because of the varying skills and backgrounds these professionals bring to the table. "You can look at salary surveys, but everyone is so unique now," McCampbell says. Because of their experiences, Bush and Sharma "were not cheap, but I could bring them in and they could hit the ground running in finance, which is what I needed," McCampbell says.

Some CIOs struggle with how to best utilize business analysts, says Forrester's Orlov, though she notes that larger IT organizations often have a better handle on how to deploy them most effectively. At Emerson Electric, business analysts in procurement, for example, "can't set the IT strategy for where procurement is trying to go," says Hassell. Instead, "they can say to procurement, 'Here's the types of things that can be brought to bear.' And they can take procurement's requirements back to IT and be its voice on the execution side."

The business analyst's liaison role is a key to successful IT, Hassell says. "The problem [with applications] is almost never with the technical specs, the coding, the IT 101. It's the communication about how something will work in the business," he says. "That's been the stumbling block in every IT organization I've ever been in."

Potholes on the road to the new IT workforce

The ongoing transformation of the IT department has focused largely on bringing in experienced professionals to quickly ramp up for the increased demand from the business. Hiring midlevel employees who can get IT where it needs to go fast is a good short-term fix. But CIOs face a looming staffing crisis. While "The State of the CIO 2006" survey shows an uptick in every level of hiring, including entry-level jobs (which accounted for 37 percent of new hires), it's not clear how these junior employees and the roles they're being given will fit in with the larger picture of an IT organization populated with versatile business-facing professionals.

Many entry-level positions in IT remain the same purely technical roles they have always been: network administrators, junior programmers, help desk administrators. And often there are no clear career paths within IT leading to the increasingly important roles of project management, business analysis and relationship management. "Most CIOs today are hiring to fill a hole," says Morello. "Not to build an organization for the future."

Hassell is an exception. He hires for the traditional entry-level IT positions at Emerson Electric. "But as the corporate CIO, I also oversee the IT procurement and IT finance departments," he says. "Junior employees can join IT in these areas and develop into project managers. And our architecture groups bring people in at more junior levels and let them work up the ladder of the architecture role. Or if they're not sure, they can try out a few different types of roles, some more hard-core technical and others more business-oriented."

Another staffing problem could be the difficulty of attracting any entry-level employees at all. Much has been written about declining university enrollment rates in computer science and other technology-related programs. At the same time, business school graduates—who are getting a good background in technology at school—often don't want to join IT departments, says Orlov of Forrester. "It's going to be an interesting double whammy for CIOs who need to keep their departments supplied with people."

But for now it seems most CIOs have their hands full just staffing up for today's needs. "They aren't worried about the entry-level problems," says Orlov. "That's a problem waiting to happen."

Senior Editor Stephanie Overby (soverby@cio.com) covers outsourcing and staffing issues.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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