5 IT career boosting moves in a flat economy

Are the endless series of IT industry layoffs and facility closures getting you worried? Are you jittery over your career prospects in this tanking economy?

Paying close attention to business needs and technology trends that boost the bottom line can be your life saver in these turbulent times, according to IT industry experts.

Mastering technologies such as cloud computing, unified communications, mobile applications and Web 2.0 and knowing how these can be applied to improve the business’s bottom line will could help your career thrive amidst the current economic turmoil, according to panelists of Microsoft’s Ignite Your Career Webcast Series. The series is co-sponsored by the Canadian Information Processing Society.

Panelists in Tuesday’s first installment of the series titled: Industry Insights and Trends, also emphasized the importance or understanding the company’s business needs.

Understand the business

Technology professionals can improve their corporate visibility by ensuring their actions or projects serve the needs of their “customer’s customer,” according to Jeff Kempiners, vice-president and chief technology officer for Avanade Canada.

Typically, the customers of IT workers are business users whose customers are the company’s clients, he said. “Start by thinking how you can enable this business user to serve their customers better and you take your career to a whole new level and get noticed in the organization.”

“Step back and examine what is the value of what you are doing to the company’s customer,” said Joel Semeniuk, founder of ImagiNET Resources Corp., a Winnipeg-based Microsoft.Net consulting firm.

When asked by Shane Schick, IT World Canada editor-in-chief, and Webcast co-host, how IT managers can make a strong business case for their projects, the panelists advised IT professionals to judiciously junk the tech lingo and adopt the biz jargon.

“If you’re from IT but can intelligently connect with the business side and tell them ‘let’s talk about cash flow’ that’s a highly valuable skill,” said Jay Payette, business analysts specializing in public and private organization at Accenture Canada in Ottawa.

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Find a sponsor

It’s also vital to find a mentor or sponsor who will champion your cause, according to the panelists.

The sponsor or mentor can be a career mentor within your company who can instruct you on the ins and outs of the business or an informal mentor from outside the organization who can provide you with guidance in more general terms.

You can have a combination of both but it’s important that you impress upon these people the following:

• The value you bring to the company

• Your desire to contribute to the improvement of the organization

• You are asking for feedback and support on your ideas

• Your brainstorming will not negatively impact your job

Go for frequent small victories

Boost employee morale and gain more recognition by initiating projects that result in a series of small success rather than concentrating on a large projects.

“The biggest source or a morale boost is a success. But instead of concentrating on big goals go for small success with easily achievable goals that have value,” according to Semeniuk, of Imaginet Resources Corp.

Zoom in on quick turn around

When the emphasis is on budget slashing, companies are on the look out for low-cost projects with shorter turnaround times, says Payette of Accenture.

“Executives will be looking to back projects that cut cost and can deliver results or profits within 12 months. They are less likely to go for big purchases.”

Use tech trends to improve productivity

Companies are looking for IT applicants that come with a “packaged set of skills” according to Paul Swinwood, president of the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) a non-profit organization that focuses on preparing highly educated workforce for the Canadian ICT industry.

“Business are not as focused on looking for people who can invent the technology as they are on people who know how to use the technology to improve productivity or boost profits,” he said.

The panelist said companies are now struggling to find out how technologies such as cloud computing, unified communications, Web 2.0 and social networking, software-as-a-service (SaaS) can deliver value and profits to the organization.

“The question companies are asking IT professionals is: ‘Can you apply these technologies to solve our business needs,’ ” said Swinwood.

Payette also said there is a big demand for workers who can make these technologies more user-friendly.

“The commercialization of devices such as smart phones and applications such as SaaS has raised the need for people who can develop technology using human centric design principles,” the Accenture analyst said.

Programmers who can work with rich Internet content-based tools such as Microsoft’s Silverlight and SharePoint products will also be in high demand, said Semeniuk of Imaginet.

“SharePoint adoption is set to explode as more companies see the value in being able to cut cost and collaborate on projects online,” he said.

Despite repeated gloomy predictions in the industry, opportunities abound for the IT professional who can provide what businesses need, according to Swinwood.

“Now more than ever business people are turning to IT shops and saying ‘Okay you show us how to be productive rather than just coming up with a new product,'” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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