Gartner: Focus on the information in IT

Gartner Inc. goes back to the future with its annual take on where IT is headed.

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Shhh! "I" and "T" are splitting up. Yes, the two letters that define the IT industry are going their separate ways, according to a recent report from Gartner Inc.

"For the remainder of this decade, information expertise will separate from technology expertise, attracting people from outside technical ranks who understand how different businesses and employees use, mine, retrieve, classify and organize information," Gartner stated.

In its annual look at the state of IT, the Stamford, Conn., research firm said the remainder of the decade brings uncertainty for IT professionals. The rise of automation and global labor trends will force IT professionals to prove they can understand business reality. Successful techies of the next decade will not define themselves by occupation -- "I work in IT" -- but by the business value they bring. To wit: "I lead a global customer relationship management team in chemical manufacturing," or "I spent two years helping to design an Internet-selling process that boosted revenue by 20%."

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Gartner predicts that by 2010 IT will divide into four areas of expertise: technology, information, process and relationships. The report identifies the trends shaping each of the domains and offers a few words of career advice for the IT professionals who choose to pursue them.

Domain No. 1, "Technology infrastructure and services," the "T" of IT, is defined as the networks, applications, servers, storage, computing platforms and other devices that are the nuts and bolts of 21st century companies. This sector will be pushed and pulled by six trends, Gartner said. Global labor markets will heat up competition in application development and maintenance. At the same time, large companies will keep their infrastructure, operations and desktop support, under close watch, outsourcing these functions domestically or geographically nearby. The demand for architecture, systems integration and application integration will grow. IT services and activities that can be easily codified will be transferred to other markets, automated or become obsolete. Security will remain a top concern for "user companies" and vendors.

IT leaders who choose this path, according to Gartner, should live by three principles: have an "excellent grasp" of the technology, learn about related technologies and reinforce behaviors that improve social skills, such as communication and team building.

Domain No. 2, "Information design and management," encompasses things like business intelligence, online consumer services and search-and-retrieval practices, according to Gartner. This is where "I" and "T" start going their separate ways. Information specialists must be "grounded in knowledge" about employees, business culture, the business itself and its markets. People who can "bridge borders, cultures, time zones and languages" will thrive. Information security will become standard practice -- indeed a reflection of corporate social responsibility -- for developed countries. If you want to get ahead in this domain, Gartner advises: "Work in business areas, core processes or new business intelligence programs to learn what constitutes the right information."

Domain No. 3, "Process design and management," is not for "faint of heart" according to the report. This domain marries IT and business, enabling the company and pushing it to ever new heights. A high-concept domain, process discussions tend to be "arcane, abstract and ambiguous," the report said, and those brave enough to take on this domain should come armed with insight into how the business, its departments and customer markets interconnect. Only three out of every 20 IT professionals, at most, will pursue this domain. While the potential for reward is great, so are the risks.

Process jobs in operations and software programming will shrink by as much as 50% in the next decade or so. Processes that support operations will migrate to outsourcing, consulting companies and automation design houses. Only the processes that differentiate companies from their competitors will stay in-house. Gartner's words to the wary for this sector: "Learn as much as you can about established, critical and strategic processes." The rewards are high. Only one to three IT professionals out of every 20 will pursue this domain.

In Gartner's Domain No. 4, "Relationship and sourcing management," IT enters the high-stakes realm of political wheeling and dealing, where negotiation, alliances, intangibles and social networking are the coin of the realm. The "least comfortable for techies," this domain is essentially about dealing with people, not products, and comes with job descriptions such as business relationship managers, customer experience champions, shared-service managers, and demand and supply analysts. Technology expertise is not as essential to the roles as the ability to drive change, arbitrate conflict and overcome customer skepticism.

Communication skills are essential. How do you become a player? Gartner said to participate in projects, programs and process designs that require cooperation among multiple parties with competing agendas. Watch how people interact.

Consultant Bruce Barnes, whose firm, Bold Vision, provides career advice and assistance to CIOs, had not seen the report, but said the Gartner career prediction sounds awfully similar to a theme that has been played and replayed many times. CIOs have long been told they have to bring business smarts and deliver business value to their companies, Barnes said.

"I am struck by the fact that this is back to the future," Barnes said. "What they have done is wrap some of their words around a trend that not only is well known but has existed for a long time."

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