IT managers: a dying breed?

Are IT managers a dying breed? Some recruiters think IT execs should be watching their back, as IT functions consolidate, are relocated to Australia or become part of a mainstream manager role.

Are IT managers a dying breed? Some recruiters think so.

The current tough times in the recruitment industry might suggest recruiters are the ones in danger, and that they've got some nerve forecasting the demise of IT managers. But at least a couple of recruiters think IT execs should be watching their back, as IT functions consolidate, are relocated to Australia or become part of a mainstream manager role.

Added to this, recruiters suggest, are economic and industry factors such as the end of the Y2K installation cycle, the dot-com crash, the end of the ERP lifecycle and firms upgrading rather than replacing old systems as it becomes harder to economically justify projects.

IT managers emphasise the importance of their role and department in modern business, though a few acknowledge the points made may have some validity.

Kevin Fong of Affco Meats says IT is increasingly important for a business to gain competitive advantage. People are still needed to maintain systems and these must be people with the right skills. An IT manager will be needed when a line manager doesn't know enough to deal with IT functions, Fong says.

Steve Bain of Housing New Zealand agrees that there will always be a need for someone to operate, maintain and upgrade systems, so he has "no fears" for the future of IT managers. Even if some companies relocate overseas, local networks and server-based services will still need managing. The IT manager remains essential for the traditional role of bringing together the networking engineer, the systems engineer and so on, he says -- "where the rubber meets the road".

David Lewitt of Environment Canterbury is more equivocal. He sees the "status quo remaining for quite a while", but says at local authority level some IT functions may be done in future by a corporate services manager.

Stuart Eastabrook of Auckland Public Library accepts that IT management "is not the exclusive club it used to be". The industry is rapidly changing so IT managers can't sit back on their laurels, he says, though he acknowledges that as long as IT execs keep moving with industry trends there should little no reason for concern.

Alliance IT Recruitment owner David Palmer is one of those who question the future of the IT manager. He says the local market at mid-level is suffering because companies such as Baxter Healthcare, Lion Nathan and the Bank of New Zealand have relocated their IT and other corporate functions to Australia. Amalgamations like the Auckland health boards' "shared services" approach to IT removes other tiers of jobs. And as IT becomes core business rather than "a black art", mainstream managers can take on more of an IT role. Thus a warehouse that previously had an IT manager and a warehouse manager could now have an infrastructure that the warehouse manager could run all by themselves, he says.

Mergers like the recent HP-Compaq one, meanwhile, hit IT support and consulting roles, Palmer says, and companies like Fisher & Paykel are tending to buy packaged solutions rather than developing their own, so need fewer IT staff.

The New Zealand IT&T director of TMP, Greg Thompson, says US-owned IT companies are putting more people in the front line and fewer in management. Management positions are being squashed and merged, and IT managers have more people reporting to them, as in other sectors. Thus instead of an IT manager having eight staff below them, they might now have 20. This approach will create trouble when conditions improve, says Thompson.

"We [then] won't have enough IT managers, team leaders or mentors. You will have issues over quality, design and delivery. You have to be careful you do not cut down too much or you won't have sufficient backup to enable things to happen."

Thompson advises IT managers who feel vulnerable in the current technology downturn to look again at their skills, history and experience and try and find positions in their company that have a wider role, or keep an eye open for opportunities elsewhere.

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