by Kim S. Nash

Four Kinds of IT Professionals CIOs Need to Hire Now

Feb 23, 2011
Consumer ElectronicsDeveloperIT Jobs

Developers of mobile, social media and collaboration apps. Business experts. Cloud-vendor managers. Masters of unstructured data. Why these IT professionals are essential to maintaining your companyu2019s competitive edge.

Social networking savvy. Mobile development experience. Business process smarts. Cloud management expertise.

Thanks to rapidly changing technology and evolving business expectations, the skills you need on staff to outcompete your rivals are morphing around you. If you don’t hire right, you won’t be ready for the future.

Already, that’s clear. CIOs see some serious holes in the competencies of their IT groups and their companies generally, according to a joint survey of 370 IT leaders by CIO magazine and the MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR). The biggest gaps are in social media, collaboration and mobile technology. Forty-four percent of CIOs said their companies lack collaboration expertise; just 8 percent named collaboration as a formal enterprise capability. Meanwhile, 27 percent said they lack expertise in evaluating mobile, tablet and other new technologies. (For more on this survey, see “Survey: More to IT Than Building and Running Systems.”)

Yet pressure is mounting to design and deploy systems that use social media and collaboration technologies and that can be accessed by employees anywhere. Meanwhile, most organizations struggle to make sense of the data tsunami crashing over them. Adding to the tumult is the movement among companies emerging from the recession to revamp business processes in order to compete better, says Jeanne Ross, director and principal research scientist at MIT CISR. IT’s value has frequently been measured by how well systems are built and maintained, but the dominant metrics in the future will be how well employees use systems to find new customers, make better decisions faster, and drum up new revenues, Ross says.

While CIOs have always had to anticipate—and staff for—technology and business shifts, change now comes faster, says Frank Wander, CIO of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. “You’ve got to get on top of this.”

Not only are Wander and other CIOs restructuring their IT groups, they’re also working closely with other departments to let business-unit staff with strong technology skills, as well as their own IT people, migrate between groups as critical projects using new technologies arise. But no one’s sure what the winning staff formula will be.

“Before, we had an understanding of what IT was and the skills needed that transcended industries and firms. There was a definition, just as the CFO has for finance,” Ross says. “Right now, that’s less true.”

Early signs indicate, however, that at least four new roles for technology professionals are emerging: hybrid business-IT experts; cloud-vendor managers; masters of data and analytics; and designers of dynamic applications that mix social, collaboration and mobile technologies. Looking for pure technologists won’t get you far. These roles require strong business knowledge plus management expertise. When you find these people, you’ll pay dearly: Some of these new IT superstars command salaries north of $100,000.

Such professionals are not only essential for deploying new systems, they’re also where you will find your future IT leaders, says Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist at Accenture. Arrange enough of these stars in the right orbits, he suggests, and you can edge past competitors, helping position your company for long-term advantage.

A New Breed of Application Developers

If they hope to attract new revenue, companies must rework IT to match the technology used by their ever-tweeting, always-mobile customers. Spend a day on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll see what you’re up against.

Project managers and application developers and designers with social, mobile, and collaboration expertise can transform existing systems and build new ones to meet such challenges. A background in Web development and user experience is helpful. CIOs should seek out people who are not only proficient in these new technologies but who also understand compliance and enterprise systems, including ERP, says MIT’s Ross. IT professionals who understand the big picture can start to rejigger these core systems into secure, accessible-anywhere applications, she says, without interrupting the flow of business. They can also conceive of ways to use existing content or data more profitably.

To acquire such a complex skill set, companies may offer big compensation. For example, Bare Escentuals, a privately held cosmetics company, wants a senior developer with at least seven years of Web experience to lead the building of a system combining social networking and content management. The pay, according to the job advertisement on, is $110,000.

Tom Flanagan, who retired recently from his position as CIO of Amgen, a $14.6 billion pharmaceutical company, has hired recent college graduates with computer science and engineering degrees who are active in social media and know collaboration tools. They count for about one-sixth of the 1,000-member IT group. Most start on Amgen’s core development team, then move throughout IT. “The older generation of IT people who work with these college kids see what these new capabilities are,” he says. “Together, they come up with innovations.”

For example, a team of new hires and senior staffers created private Facebook-like virtual workspaces for Amgen employees called MySite and MyTeams, using Microsoft SharePoint collaboration tools. Employees can more easily find each other by searching others’ profiles for key words and immediately detect, through presence capabilities, whether someone’s online. And by using Office Communicator, they can learn how their colleagues like to interact, Flanagan says.

Just because a CIO isn’t hiring full-timers doesn’t mean he isn’t pursuing new development capabilities—or refocusing existing staff on emerging technology. Jim DiMarzio, CIO of Mazda North American Operations, isn’t adding workers this year, but he considers contractors to be strategic extensions of his staff. Most of DiMarzio’s 85 IT staffers are mid- to senior level. “They’re not here for programming and deep technical skills, but to talk to the business areas.” Staffers help to shape projects; contractors fill nitty-gritty technology skills gaps.

For example, within Mazda’s RaannddD group, DiMarzio and his IT staff are talking with engineers about ways to incorporate awareness of cell phones into cars, perhaps by letting dashboards and phones exchange information via built-in Bluetooth. If the project happens, DiMarzio would hire contractors to code for specific cell phone operating systems.

He wants mobile developers, but not necessarily those with experience in the automotive industry. “We’re now looking for people with ideas about how to take advantage of new mobile technology from the retail world.” That’s because retailers, he says, are further along in adopting consumer technology and linking it with legacy systems.

Professional Business-IT Hybrids

Just as technology pervades daily living, so are technology skills infiltrating business departments outside IT. The trend has produced a hybrid business-IT professional who moves easily between functions and is much sought-after all over the company, says Rick Swanborg, a professor at Boston University and president of ICEX, a consultancy that runs leading-practice communities for IT leaders. (Swanborg is also a CIO magazine columnist.)

Teams filled with hybrid IT-business people can experiment with new digital products, adds Accenture’s Curtis. That may include offerings such as data-analysis options that allow electricity customers to fine-tune their power consumption, or new digital features in established products, such as the dashboard cell-phone sensors DiMarzio imagines for Mazda cars. At Mazda, these staffers with hybrid skills report to IT, but at many other companies, they don’t.

Swanborg predicts that CEOs will make a point of ordering CIOs to distribute IT expertise across business units. Unless business people “understand something about the technology and how it works and what you can use it for,” he says, “many of your departments are going to be uncompetitive.” ­Swanborg says companies fight for graduates of Boston ­University’s MS-MBA program—which combines a master’s degree in information systems with a traditional graduate business curriculum—offering them an average total compensation of $105,000.

Even when hybrids report outside IT, CIOs will play a big role in nurturing their contributions and careers. Take Chris Colla. Colla is the director of business process management in the logistics and supply chain department at Sharp Electronics, a North American subsidiary of $29.7 billion Sharp based in Japan. There he reports to the vice president of logistics and environmental supply chain and serves as liaison to the CIO’s office.

Colla began his career in IT, working in supply chain management—specifically on SAP—at various companies including Accenture. His experience with enterprise systems led him to logistics and operations work on Accenture consulting projects and, ultimately, to Sharp. Along the way, he came to specialize in reviewing, redesigning and improving business processes for audit controls and systems. Next, he says, he’d like to return to IT and lead an organization in applications development, become a CIO, then a COO and, eventually, a CEO.

Colla credits a mentor with influencing his career plans. Colla recalls this mentor telling him that if he stays in operations, “they’ll always look at you as the IT guy with three years in operations.” But his operations and business-process experience will make him a standout in IT.

Crossover experience between IT and business groups is critical to innovation, says Colla, and “will make IT more powerful in the organization. [IT] gains credibility and the company gains competitive advantage.”

The IT-business-process combination isn’t the only kind of thriving hybrid. In companies that provide consumer products and services, CIOs are seeking IT professionals with a background in e-commerce and Web marketing. For example, Bruce Shuman is vice president of e-business at the Hartford. Shuman started his career as a consultant for Andersen Consulting, where he focused on ERP software. In the last decade, he worked on e-commerce for companies including Timberland, DuPont, GE Capital and the financial-services firm HSBC.

Reporting to the Hartford’s head of e-business, Shuman is responsible for increasing the revenue gained from one customer segment: retirees buying auto insurance. His portfolio includes managing search-engine optimization—making sure the Hartford comes up prominently in Google searches about auto insurance products—as well as coaxing consumers to buy a policy online.

Shuman was drawn to e-commerce and marketing in part because he saw them as more connected to top-line business objectives. IT seemed too reactive. It’s not that the IT departments where he worked didn’t care about revenue growth. “But IT is on a never-ending quest for cheaper and faster,” he says. “Marketing is more on the strategic side.”

Shuman thinks younger technology professionals will ultimately shun companies whose senior leaders draw a thick line between IT and marketing, sales, product development and other departments. People with technology backgrounds can “look at a problem, break it into manageable components and devise a solution,” he says. “That understanding is not function-specific.”

Vendor Manager (a.k.a. Cat Herder)

As companies do more business with cloud, software-as-a-service and other off-premise suppliers, CIOs deal with a range of vendors providing more discrete bits of IT. And it’s likely that no one of those providers has a complete picture of what the CIO is trying to accomplish with technology.

Savvy negotiators and relationship experts who can ride herd on those vendors can save money for the company. But they can also squeeze more creative and useful services from those suppliers. Doing that requires a new kind of vendor-management expert, says Marc Cecere, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

The traditional approach is to hold vendors accountable for service levels, enforcing penalties for breaches, says Cecere. Modern vendor managers take a wider view, looking at the combined performance of all suppliers. They can, Cecere says, ask vendors to work together for faster application response time, which may improve customer satisfaction or drive more sales.

Ross at MIT suggests these new vendor managers may also assume responsibility for strategic experiments. The CIO may want to test a new, online product but not want to try it on production servers for fear of disrupting daily business. The vendor manager can oversee a cloud provider that conducts the experiment, she says. In the past, IT might have bought extra servers to set up an internal sandbox for such testing. A cloud provider can run bigger tests more cheaply, she says.

The new cat herders may have a legal background as well as knowledge of IT, says Swanborg. And in addition to expertise in a particular technology, business area or type of project, up-and-coming vendor managers need excellent communication skills, notes Cecere. The ability to persuade is critical, he says, because cat herding is not just about managing outsiders. “They have to force business leaders to prioritize and compromise about what they’re asking IT to do. That’s very difficult.”

Certainly in the past if a vendor manager wanted to fire an IT provider or renegotiate service levels, the business sponsor had to be on board. However, as use of the cloud increases, such situations will arise more frequently. Plus, when CIOs increase the ratio of outside providers to internal staff, IT can become vulnerable, says William Swislow, CIO of Business units can more easily contract with cloud providers for technology services, circumventing the IT department, he says. “We need strong vendor managers to work with internal colleagues to build relationships and not let that get contentious.”

Swislow expects to hire a few cat herders this year to improve collaboration among the providers who help to build systems that run on IBM WebSphere, the platform powering the company’s e-commerce site. As steps into mobile e-commerce, these vendors will have to work together closely, under the supervision of Swislow’s staff as well as departments such as marketing and product development.

Swislow just hired a senior director for planning and strategy and an offshore engagement manager. He warns that vendor managers should never be junior-level jobs.

“You better hire someone good. So much of your strategic future is in their hands.”

All Hail the Data Masters

Do you know how much an exabyte of data is? Thanks mainly to the Web, WiFi and enterprise computing, we humans create about five exabytes of data every other day, according to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. That’s 5,000,000,000,000,000,000 (yes, 5 quintillion) bytes of numbers, letters, images and sound. Though no single company has to manage even one exabyte of information, CIOs nevertheless face what’s becoming known as Big Data

We know how to set up databases and spreadsheets, with their defined structures. But now most corporate data is unstructured. E-mail, video and PowerPoint presentations, instant messages, images and diagrams of new products, voice mail, and social networking conversations with customers are all potentially valuable for uncovering new revenue sources. Running a mix of on- and off-premise systems further complicates data management and analytics, if only because keeping track of where which data resides is more difficult. Extracting the right information at the right time for competitive advantage, Flanagan says, “is one of the more complicated IT issues out there today.”

The twofold problem—managing the data and interpreting the data—drives CIOs to look for seasoned IT professionals with deep experience designing business intelligence (BI) and analytics systems. They must wrestle terabytes upon terabytes that buzz between a company and its vendors—cloud, software-as-a-service and outsourcing—as well as data from public sources and on-premise legacy systems. Then these data masters must create applications and tools for analyzing the information. While hybrid professionals such as Colla and Shuman look at how a department or whole company operates, data masters apply their combined IT and business talents specifically to data. Best suited for the job are those with intimate knowledge of core corporate systems who can also step back to ponder questions such as, How does information flow? What forces underlie those currents? What’s the best way to pull insights from that sea? And how does the way a company works influence what data is available and who can find it?

For example, AkzoNobel Paints, a U.S. division of the $15.9 billion AkzoNobel chemicals firm in the Netherlands, recently advertised for a BI specialist with experience interpreting business processes. Disney wants an enterprise search specialist who has built search and recommendation engines and who would report to the marketing technology group, a team responsible for ensuring “the right technologies are in place to support our business strategy.”

Under way at Amgen is a large enterprise search project, which the company views as an engineering puzzle whose solution could provide a big competitive advantage. If drug researchers can draw connections between data quickly and easily and can share it with other researchers internally and externally, new products can be brought to market faster and generate revenue longer, Flanagan says. “We have got to find a way to make data meaningful and get access to data when [scientists] need it.”

But so far, Amgen hasn’t found just one kind of person to solve this problem; IT leaders have had to be creative. They’ve found some data masters in corporate legal departments, where staff often have to pull information relevant to a lawsuit or audit from masses of structured and unstructured data. But Flanagan would also like to see database administrators and other IT staff who manage information become experts at integrating data streams.

Most of the search experts he hired are senior IT engineers from the federal government, which has funded large data-management projects over the years, he says. He has also consulted with the FBI, among several federal agencies, to understand the kind of talent it is applying to a massive enterprise search project there involving its 8.2 million case files. (For more, see “FBI CIO’s Mission: Modernize.”)

Time to Get Going

At Guardian Life, CIO Wander is in the thick of Talent 2020, his plan to inventory the expertise of his IT department and systematically add employees with fresh skills. Working with the human resources group, Wander has identified the skills of retiring Baby Boomers and is working on replenishing them while hiring new staff. Among those he is looking to hire are mobile and analytics experts, along with vendor manager cat herders. To identify skills gaps and the pace at which to fill them, Wander advises CIOs to calculate, among other variables, the degree of competency each member of the IT staff possesses on various platforms, plus demographic cohorts, such as age and tenure. “We get a very clear picture of what feeder system of talent we need to make sure knowledge transfer takes place.”

As with any new technology, adding staff with fresh competencies helps bring the existing staff up to speed. At Amgen, superstars who can design and build systems that include social networking and mobile computing are spurring existing staff with less up-to-date skills to do new, better work, Flanagan says. That strengthens Amgen’s competitive position, he says. “They’re excited and interested and bring in energy. They’re getting ranked as top performers and are pushing senior people to increase their own performance.”

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99.