All IT staff will soon need business skills

By 2010, even low and mid-level tech workers will have to be commercially savvy - not just IT-wise, according to recruiters. Mary K Pratt reports

As more CIOs move towards business and IT alignment over the next several years, the make-up and structure of IT will change. IT and business unit employees will work more closely together — and, in some cases, interchangeably.

Autumn Bales, CIO at Tasty Baking, says, “We will see more of a blur between whether you work in IT or work in the business. You’ll see more opportunities to cross between the lines”.

The line between IT and business is blurring in her own position. Bayles has a mix of business responsibilities, in addition to those involving IT; she took over distribution, supply chain and manufacturing planning, and customer service a year ago.

“It’s largely driven by the fact that the technology is so embedded in the processes of those operations that it’s a natural [combination],” she says.

On the other hand, Bayles also has pure technologists within her 13-person IT department. She points to an SAP specialist on staff who is highly valuable in his role.

In the 2010 job market, Bayles and other CIOs say, such deep technical skills will still be needed, to maintain “the pipes and plumbing”. But they also say that, as their companies move towards adopting alignment as a model, they will use outside vendors to gain those skills. Those left as internal IT staffers will need technical skills, but they’ll need much more business knowledge to succeed professionally, says Saby Mitra, an associate professor of IT management at Georgia Institute of Technology.

“You’re going to see a situation where technical knowledge is important,” he says. “But it’s only a small part of the picture.”

For example, when Traci A Logan, IT vice president at Bentley College, interviews developers, she’s interested in how well they collaborate with others and manage projects, as well as how quickly they can learn. Their IT credentials? While still critical, they are increasingly becoming secondary to business acumen and related skills.

The must-have skills for IT staffers four years from now will include excellent verbal and written communication skills and strong organisational skills, says Katherine Spencer Lee.

As executive director of recruitment firm Robert Half Technology, Spencer Lee is already seeing an increasing demand for project managers and business analysts — the business-facing technology positions that are key to successfully aligning IT and the business units.

Likewise, IT executive Phil Zwieg says he sees a growing need for tech workers who can handle project coordination, project risk assessment and project budgeting. He also sees more need for workers who have expertise in a particular industry or in domains such as accounting, finance and human resources.

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