IT Leadership


Staffing Up for IT’s New Normal

There is a quiet but persistent buzz that IT budgets will grow in 2011. CIOs are hinting at this during analyst meetings, and a recent poll at Interop, the leading business trade show for IT executives, showed that more than half of IT professionals are projecting an increase in their budgets going forward.

But as budgets increase, likely so too will the complexity — the breadth and depth — of IT offerings and needs. Executives are starting to ask the question: What kind of IT talent will be needed to support this “new normal?”

Staying Flexible

What’s certain is that this change will not happen overnight. The slow pace of economic recovery is causing IT executives — like most decision-makers — to take a conservative approach to spending and staffing up. In my own conversations with our clients, many have indicated they are more optimistic than a year ago, but that they are still hesitant to hire full-time talent, choosing instead to leverage temporary or contract workers to fill their needs.

This conscious, strategic business decision allows employers the flexibility to staff growing projects without immediately committing to full-time hires in an economic environment many employers still feel is tenuous. However, with some signs that the economy is beginning to stabilize, the rate of temporary employees becoming permanent employees is beginning to rise.

Flexibility will be paramount in this “new normal” IT environment. Companies realize and accept that smart investments in technology and IT are critical “first steps” to recovery. Ultimately, this flexibility will be a major key to success, as companies start to rebound in our tough economy.

As the recovery takes shape, we’ll see many watchful, cautious businesses bring on droves of high-performing temporary employees as full-time hires — having already fully trained and onboarded them. In effect, the impact of the recession — the turn to temporary before full-time approach — allows companies to “try before they buy,” theoretically allowing them to be one step ahead as the economy more aggressively rebounds and the war for IT talent heats up even more.

New Skills, New Names

But it won’t be enough to simply have a full staff — the “new normal” of IT will require this talent to be well-versed in enhanced and constantly evolving hot technology, like cloud computing. As companies shift data and processes to equipment that typically live outside their walls, they may no longer need traditionally trained IT teams with roles like network engineers. Instead, we’ll see talent jockeying for new positions with esoteric-sounding titles like “cloud architect” or “cloud infrastructure administrator.”

Today’s new breed of IT professional, in fact, needs to play a hybrid role, needing to be much more involved with the business side of the enterprise than ever before. In particular, they need to be able to think more about IT solutions from the perspective of a marketing analyst or customer service representative rather than merely from a technology standpoint.

Cloud-based services, for example, have ignited buzz in the C-suite, offering immediate appeal as a way to quickly reduce capital expenses. Chief Information Officers, in particular, have started to recognize the potential of this technology, intrigued by its ability to support changes to a company’s business model and transform how it serves up information to its customers. As a result, successful IT professionals will need to make sure they are not only skilled at understanding the technological aspects and advantages of new technologies, but that they simultaneously understand — and can effectively communicate — the business impact and efficiencies realized via these new solutions.

Working Security

Other high-impact macro IT trends anticipated for 2011 include navigating an increasingly complex IT security landscape. Not only is today’s security landscape more vulnerable as a result of emerging technologies but these landscapes have been simultaneously stretched to allow employees the open freedom to harness and leverage social and related digital networking capabilities both in the workplace and on their work devices.

Clearly it takes different skills to ensure the security of an entire IT infrastructure than it does to monitor individual employee Facebook usage, but it’s really the symbiotic nature of these skills that is truly interesting — and challenging for IT talent that perhaps has historically been trained to only deal with one half of the equation.

The success of tomorrow’s IT departments will be seen in those that rise to the challenge to staff and train on ALL sides — technology, business, policy, etc. In this “new normal” environment ahead, companies will increasingly challenge IT to make technology an active enabler of innovation and customer loyalty — to be contributing participants in driving business. Smart businesses will use the time today to take stock of their talent and carefully consider what professional gaps they need to fill to be prepared to be best positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities tomorrow.

Jack Cullen is president of Modis.

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