Propeller-heads giving IT staffs the wrong spin

Hiring was hot in the late 1990s, as CIOs threw money around trying to find and retain top technical talent. But early in the new millennium hiring fizzled, and CIOs, pressured to cut costs and do more with less, outsourced much IT work and even fired employees.

Now CIOs are staffing up again. According to CIO magazine’s “The State of the CIO 2006” survey, 55% of IT executives expect to increase their IT staffs in the coming year, by an average of 11%.

But hiring needs have changed since the last boom. The IT staff is being reincarnated as a more flexible corps of business-savvy technology professionals who can meet the growing and increasingly complex demands of the business.

“In the last year or two, CIOs’ bosses have told them that IT must become a major contributor to innovation again. They looked around at their survivor collection of IT staff and realized they had a skills problem,” says Laurie Orlov, VP and research director for Forrester.

Technical prowess, so all-important in the past, is no longer sufficient for the IT professional. In fact, it’s taking a backseat to business understanding, as CIOs are staffing up to hire those with project management and business-process management skills, which, along with application development, are the top three skills desired most from new hires, according to the survey.

The preferred educational background for IT employees today is more often an MBA than a computer science degree, says Orlov.

According to Gartner’s 2005 report on the IT professional outlook, six out of 10 IT employees will assume business-facing roles by 2010. And there’s pressure from the business to make this transformation quickly, say IT leaders and analysts. In assembling this more versatile IT workforce, CIOs are hiring those with experience.

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