by John Edwards

Message to the CIO: Innovate or Die

Dec 15, 20032 mins

To fight job losses caused by advancing technologies, IT professionals must become innovators and supporters rather than organizers and maintainers, says futurologist Ian Pearson of British Telecommunications.

He believes that as computers become increasingly capable of managing themselves, IT professionals will find themselves gradually transitioning into the roles of technology innovators and interpreters. “We need to look around for jobs that enhance the way the IT infrastructure is used,” Pearson says. “We could retrain people to produce things like virtual environments or new communications tools.”

Joy Hughes, vice president of IT and CIO of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., already senses a changing mission among her managers and staffers. The school recently deployed a Web-based course management system that’s designed to make it easier for faculty members to place their courses online. “We have more people supporting the course management system than we did writing custom software for the few faculty members who put courses online five years ago,” she notes.

“We’ll be using more [IT professionals] in the future to help people get the most out of the IT that’s available to them,” says Pearson. “They’re moving up the value chain into human interaction.”

As technology grows more sophisticated, there will also be a diminished need for IT workers with deep technical knowledge, predicts Dianne Morello, a research vice president at Gartner. “There will be a broader demand for people who are versatile in a variety of different areas than those who are continuous specialists in only one area,” she says. Morello believes that this trend will gradually raise the bar for IT workers: “It may, in fact, even turn them into business IT professionals instead of just technical folks.”