The New IT Department: The Top Three Positions You Need

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

Hiring was hot in the fin de siècle 1990s, as CIOs threw money around trying to find and retain top technical talent. But as the new millennium wore on, hiring fizzled, and CIOs—pressured to cut costs and do more with less—outsourced much IT work and even fired employees.

Now CIOs are staffing up again. According to "The State of the CIO 2006" survey, 55 percent of IT executives expect to increase their IT staffs in the coming year, by an average of 11 percent.

But hiring needs have changed since the last boom. The IT staff is being reincarnated as a more flexible corps of business-savvy technology professionals who can meet the growing—and increasingly complex—demands of the business. "In the last year or two, CIOs’ bosses have told them that IT must become a major contributor to innovation again. They looked around at their survivor collection of IT staff and realized they had a skills problem," says Laurie Orlov, VP and research director for Forrester. Technical prowess, so all-important in the past, is no longer sufficient for the IT professional. In fact, it’s taking a backseat to business understanding, as CIOs are staffing up to hire those with project management and business-process management skills—which, along with application development, are the top three skills desired most from new hires, according to our survey.

The preferred educational background for IT employees today is more often an MBA than a computer science degree, says Orlov. New IT hires are as likely to be brought over from the business side as they are to have been groomed in IT. Even some programming jobs—once purely technical positions—now require candidates to spend time working in the business function first before ever designing systems for that function, she says.

"The big picture is that IT here—and perhaps everywhere—has become ever more integrated into all aspects of the business," says Judy Stahl, CIO at Harvard Business School. "As more and more IT is being used in every nook and cranny of the business, it not only means our staffing needs are growing but it’s also causing some real changes and shifts in IT roles."

According to Gartner’s 2005 report on the IT professional outlook, six out of 10 IT employees will assume business-facing roles by 2010. And there’s pressure from the business to make this transformation quickly, say IT leaders and analysts. So in assembling this more versatile IT workforce, CIOs are hiring those with experience. Sixty percent of all new hires are midlevel employees with three to 10 years of experience, according to our survey. "After four years of hunkering down, there’s a lot of pent-up demand. Bringing in junior employees is just not going to get you there that fast," explains Andrew Wihtol, principal of Andrew Associates Executive Search and an executive board member with the Society for Information Management. Andrew Associates recently helped the new CIO of a $1.4 billion manufacturing, distribution and retail company bring in a new head of IT architecture, a project management leader skilled at training others in project management, and a business analyst. "All three of those positions were much more seasoned professionals who not only had the ability to get the job done but also to spread the word and tutor others," says Wihtol.

The need for these knowledgeable and flexible IT professionals isn’t limited to one type of IT organization; such demand permeates organizations across the IT spectrum—from the Wal-Marts that keep all IT work in-house to the GMs that outsource on a large-scale basis, from multinationals with thousands of IT workers around the globe to midsize businesses with a handful of local IT talent.

In sum, the IT workforce is more important to business than ever before. For CIOs, it can become a full-time job to define the new business-facing IT roles, find the right candidates and use their skills in the right way. Three roles in particular have emerged as critical: the project manager, the relationship manager and the business analyst. Experienced candidates in these areas are inordinately hard to find. And some roles, like that of the relationship manager, are hard to define. And there are other difficulties: determining how to compensate these new specialists in a shifting job market, training and deploying them, and—once you’ve figured all that out—keeping your top talent on board. But CIOs must confront and conquer these challenges if they are to meet the increasing IT demands of today’s business environment.

"I would be surprised to find any CIO or IT employee who’s not more business-focused today or doing more in the areas of relationship management, business analysis and project management," says David McCampbell, VP of worldwide information services at Immucor, a $144 million manufacturer of diagnostic products for blood banks. "With IT and the business becoming more dependent on each other and the need in IT to control spending and show value, the IT staff needs to work more closely than ever before with the business to do that. It’s a fundamental shift."

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