In the intense new battle for IT jobs, those with multiple skills and broad knowledge of technologies will prevail
Also due to disappear, CIOs say, are virtually all other single-purpose IT job titles. Unix administrators? Forget them. Today’s trend toward services-based software, mobile apps, cloud and consumer technologies means it is the breadth, not the depth, of knowledge and experience that wins — or keeps — the IT job.
And the job itself most likely won’t be based in an IT department, but embedded in another business function such as sales, marketing, manufacturing, or supply chain, with the employee working alongside tech-savvy business colleagues.
“It’s very unusual for us to have folks who only have one skill,” says Norm Fjeldheim, CIO at Qualcomm in San Diego. “There are folks who I was forced to let go because they only wanted to retain one skill set. It’s very career-limiting for people to be so specialized that they can’t work in multiple environments and multiple technologies.”
Unlike the traditional IT environment, which consisted of a portfolio or inventory of discrete applications and technologies tended by in-house technical specialists, the emerging environment is a tightly-woven fabric of on-premises and off-premises services offered to an increasingly mobile workforce and customer base on an ever-widening range of consumer devices, like smartphones and iPads.
These services are designed, assembled and continually enhanced by professionals with a broad knowledge of what the technologies can do and how they fit together, plus a deeper, more specialized knowledge of how they can be applied to a particular set of steps or tasks in an overall business process, such as order to cash or procure to pay. The ultimate goal is to build and assemble a combination of technical capabilities and business services that enables a company to distinguish itself from its competitors in terms of price, customer service, operational efficiency and other key business metrics.
At General Mills, a regular on Computerworld’s Best Places to Work in IT list, CIO Mike Martiny says he has organized these various capabilities into centers of excellence where the mission is to “stitch a number of technologies together to create a solution or capability that didn’t exist before.”
New job titles to emerge in the centers of excellence range from solutions developer to enterprise architect.
“Expertise in a technical area is an entry in the door,” Martiny says. After that, General Mills will focus on building skills in four key domains: security, mobility, integrated digital marketing, and enterprise data and governance. “These are four areas that have a broad reach,” he notes.
• Information architect, user experience lead (consultant)
• Current assignment: American Airlines, Dallas
As an information architect, Jeff Stachowski describes himself as both a translator and an ambassador.
“It’s up to the information architect to work with the business or project manager and understand all of their requirements, then communicate to developers how to build what they want,” he says.
In his current assignment as a user experience lead on a Web development project at American Airlines, Stachowski says, “Communication is my No. 1 strongest point.”
Stachowski built his first Web page on a lark back in 1996. He and a graphic designer friend bought a modem, started checking out early Web pages built in straight HTML and were hooked. “It was the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life,” he says.
Over the past 15 years, Stachowski, who is largely self-taught, has worked as a Web developer, information architect and user experience expert, on both a permanent and contract basis. He keeps his knowledge current by attending seminars, reading blogs and gaining on-the-job experience.
In the course of a day, Stachowski says, he works with programmers, business managers, art directors, designers and clients. “The information architect is like a real-life architect who figures out where to put the restrooms in a building or how much parking is needed and where it will go,” he says. “You have to understand everything that is going on and organize the information in a logical manner,” he explains. That includes figuring out where to place various buttons, tabs and the logical progression of links to other information.
“In my job, I don’t need to know every trick in Photoshop, but I need to be able to communicate visually an idea. You also need an understanding of a browser’s capabilities and how to store information in a database. I don’t know how to do all of those things, but I must know if it’s possible and what the requirements are,” he says.
Because technology is changing constantly, Stachowski says anyone considering a job like his “has to be fluid and willing and able to change.”
“With HTML3, everything is in tables, then HTML4 has Cascading Style Sheets, and now there is HTML5. It’s not like it was with mainframe programmers who had a specialty. We don’t have that luxury anymore. Systems change every four to five years and you either learn or you’re always going to have that college kid coming out of school who knows all the new stuff,” he says.
The payoff is steady work, even in a stumbling economy.
“There is absolutely a demand for my skills,” he says, noting that he typically receives three to four calls and three to four emails a day from recruiters with jobs paying between $80,000 and $90,000 per year.
“I turned off my resume on Dice and Monster,” he says, referring to the popular job sites. But he also cautions that demand for his skills is cyclical.
“When the Internet bubble burst, guys like me were the first to go,” he says, again adding, “You have to be fluid and willing and able to change.”
Martiny says the company hires people to pursue careers, not to do a job or assume a specific title. “We always have specific technology roles open,” he says, “but we’re looking for very specific skill sets for a period of time” — not forever. “That’s why we look for people with continuous curiosity and a demonstrated history of continuous learning.”
At Qualcomm, Fjeldheim considers the role of the enterprise architect to be among the most difficult to fill, especially by newcomers. That’s why he is “cherry-picking” the best and brightest from his existing IT staff to transition into the role of enterprise architect. “IT still has architecture responsibility, but we’re also charged with creating and deploying some of the new and innovative technologies coming in. That’s not an easy role to fill from outside, partly because the role needs to understand the business and what the business is trying to accomplish,” he says.
A second key trend driving a shift in IT jobs is the proliferation of so-called big data — the massive volumes of bits and bytes collected by hundreds of thousands of transaction-based systems, sensors and RFID systems and, increasingly, social networks.
“IT’s main role since the 1970s was to reduce inefficiencies in manual processes and create productivity gains through automation,” notes Tim Sarvis, manager of IT plant operations and services at Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, Tenn. “The next big thing is trying to gain insight from all of this data — terabytes and terabytes of data. [We need] a way to model the data and put it in the hands of knowledge workers and decision-makers to make better, faster decisions,” he says.
At Eastman, “we’re structuring our talent pool around this mega-trend,” adds Sarvis. “Data modelers, scrum masters, data architects, corporate architects are all titles that we’ll be focusing on to beef up business intelligence.”
Guy Peri, director of business intelligence at Procter & Gamble, says the consumer goods giant regards BI analysts as “trusted advisers” to the business. The company is investing heavily in both BI tools and BI analysts; Peri estimates that BI will account for as much as 20% of the company’s IT organization and budget.
What’s more, P&G is setting up BI universities to train its supply chain partners in the company’s processes and analytics. “We want to drive continual BI at the operational level, right down to consumers,” Peri says. P&G is also tracking “chatter” on various social networks, incorporating the customer feedback it gathers into its overall analytics-based business decisions.
Mobile App Developers
Another huge trend driving the current demand for very specific skills is the ever-increasing mobility of workers, customers, suppliers and partners, experts say. Simply stated, mobile applications have exploded. In 2010, sales of Apple iOS apps totaled nearly $1.8 billion. This year, global mobile app sales are projected to hit $4 billion, according to market researcher IHS.
But as Woodson Martin, senior vice president of employee success at Salesforce.com, sees it, mobility can’t be separated from cloud computing and social networking. “When I think of IT today and in the future, social, mobile and cloud are the three words that matter, whether you’re in the consumer or enterprise space or a small or large business,” Martin says.
“Customers want mobile applications that have a social networking component and that run in the cloud. So what I need are people who can embrace all of these things, and not in little pockets, either,” he emphasizes. “I need everybody on my team to be oriented around all of these technologies.”
Specifically, Martin says, “skill sets like HTML5, Ruby and Java allow us to design applications in a run-anywhere world, so they can be social, mobile and cloud,” he says. As for titles, Martin says he’s seeing fewer technology-specific titles and more titles like “technical staff member.”
“The work done by members on these teams changes based on what the organization needs,” he says. “They may be working on Web architecture one day and a mobile architecture the next day. What we’re seeing are the traditional silos melting away as everyone is racing to produce social, mobile and cloud [applications].”
The need for individuals with knowledge of and experience using a wide range of technologies, coupled with a thorough understanding of how a business operates, is profoundly shifting IT’s overall role in the enterprise, according to several veteran CIOs and industry watchers.
Rather than acting as implementers of technologies that can make the business run cheaper and faster, IT staffers are moving into leadership and innovation roles, informing and advising executive management about how technology can, for example, help set prices and mix product offerings to improve profits or market share.
“IT is leading the business, especially from an enterprise perspective,” says Doug Beebe, who recently moved from an executive role in enterprise IT to a financial strategy and technology executive position at Toyota Motor Sales.
“Most business divisions are very much siloed. They’ve got a set of things they need to do on a daily basis and they aren’t afforded the opportunity to look across the organization,” Beebe notes. “When IT understands the [business] vision, it can recommend things that technology can do to fulfill that vision.”
At Chicago-based Kraft Foods, the IT function is centralized, but CIO Mark Dajani has purposely embedded his staffers into business units so they can thoroughly understand the company’s mission and drive results.
“I don’t want IT to influence, but to lead the business,” Dajani says. “IT is about driving business results and ownership of business results.”
• Director of analytics and process management
• Diamond Resorts International, North Las Vegas
Here’s how Yin Nawady, a Harvard graduate with a degree in government and politics, describes what she does for a living: “I look at a lot of numbers and data all day long, and I draw conclusions and help the business to make their decisions using that information.” She believes her career outlook is exceptionally bright.
“It’s a self-serving statement, I know, but I think there is no limit to the opportunities,” she says. “Companies need people who can connect the dots between data, technology and the business, and communicate those relationships.”
Nawady began her career as a financial analyst, planning and managing budgets. “That’s where I started to understand the guts of business,” she says. From there, “I started applying analysis to forward thinking, which established the link between analytics and business.”
Nawady moved through various management positions at online companies where she was continually embedded in technical teams. “Between the financial analysis experience and my experience in the online sector, I had the technical foundation I need for BI and analytics,” she says.
Her current work focuses on constructing a 360-degree view of Diamond Resorts’ customers; this involves analyzing both structured and unstructured data from social media, various online sites and customer information. But the biggest part of her job is communication, she says. “I spend a lot of time on external communication with stakeholders, with our chairman, CEO, our president and our CFO. A lot of that communication is to make sure that what we’re doing is directly tied to the strategic direction of the company,” she explains.
Skills needed for Nawady’s role include “excellent analytical and critical thinking skills,” she says. “A financial, marketing or strategic analyst role could be the foundation as long as it’s digital. That’s the new frontier.”
Other required skills include a solid grasp of social media, Google analytics and online metrics, Nawady says. “You must also be familiar with data mining and databases. You don’t need to be a SQL coder or developer. On the other hand, there are many technical concepts with regard to data mining that are incredibly helpful.”
Whereas more technical IT professionals focus inward and drill down into data, Nawady equates her role to “looking at an inverted triangle where you’re constantly looking upward and outward to all the different disciplines,” and adds, “It’s all about critical thinking.”
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