Managing technology in a 'hybrid IT' era

CIOs should focus on building hybrid IT skills as workers throughout the business increasingly provision the IT they need to do their jobs.

Call it hybrid IT or business technology (BT) or just plain business operations, technology will be so tightly

tied to the business in the future that IT will become everybody's job.

"The role of technology is now so pervasive that managing it is no longer entrusted to one group, but instead is split among every department, function, line of business and product group," said David Foote, CEO at research firm Foote Partners LLC in Vero Beach, Fla. Former CIO and Gartner Inc. analyst Jack Santos, who covers organizational development and leadership at the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy, agrees. "Business people think IT is part of their job," he said.

Precisely how the democratization of IT will shake out in the enterprise is still unclear, but that has not stopped experts from advising CIOs on how to prepare for the IT organization of the future -- and hybrid IT comes up often.

As IT becomes embedded in business units, internal IT departments should focus more on consulting and educating workers than on dictating which technology is used on the job, Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., which has long pushed the concept of BT, told CIOs last spring.

The role of technology is now so pervasive that managing it is no longer entrusted to one group.

David Foote, CEO, Foote Partners LLC

"IT is the group that puts the guardrails in place so people don't make bad mistakes acquiring technology," said Marc Cecere, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester. "This will be true throughout IT, not just for CIOs."

Technology educators, innovation specialists, vendor management experts and information architects will be in demand at the hybrid IT organizations of the future, but the need for traditional IT infrastructure skills won't disappear, Cecere said. Business people have shown little interest in managing highly technicalIT operations. Servers, maintenance, data centers, email, calendaring and communications will remain largely in the hands of a centralized IT department (either on premises or outsourced to a third party), as will IT planning. "Everything else is fair game," he said.

Based on a survey by The Corporate Executive Board Company of executives at 127 enterprise organizations, as few as 25% of current employee headcounts will remain within corporate IT, while as many as 30% will move to multifunctional shared services groups or business units, said Andrew Horne, managing director at the Washington, D.C.-based executive advisory firm. The rest will relocate to external providers. As IT shifts from service provider to broker and integrator, different IT skills and roles will be required to interact with business partners. "We estimate that IT strategist, service manager and information architect are roles that will see the greatest increase in importance," he said.

One sign of move to hybrid IT: Bifurcated vendor management

The movement to hybrid IT organizations will be slow, in Cecere's view. "It's going to take a long time because there is a huge embedded base, not just of IT systems but of expertise and ways of doing things." Already, however, there are signs of traditional IT roles being taken over by or shared with the business, technology vendor management being one. "We're actually seeing it bifurcated between the business and IT today," Cecere said, particularly in industries that have a strong purchasing function. Examples of vendor management becoming a shared effort between the business and IT include BJ's Wholesale Club Inc., the Westborough, Mass., based warehouse club operator; and Russell Investments, a Seattle-based global financial investment firm, he said.

Another area that is morphing is business process design, a low-level function traditionally handled by IT business analysts charged with mechanically tweaking rather than overhauling business processes. As businesses become more global and look to make business processes consistent across their far-flung operations, the business process design function requires not only the mechanical skills coming from IT departments but also strong business consulting negotiation skills. "We see companies bringing in process design experts from big consulting firms or finding people within the business side," Cecere said.

Hybrid IT-business professionals

For someone like Foote, whose firm has been tracking certified and noncertified IT skills since 1999, the shift is under way already, and is giving rise to what he identifies as the "new hybrid IT-business professional."

"We estimate that there are 20 million to 24 million of these hybrids now working in lines of business, corporate departments and product development groups, and in a wide variety of implementation and support functions throughout the enterprise," Foote said. The hybrid cohort is in addition to approximately 4 million IT engineers, software programmers and developers, architects and other IT professionals who are tracked and reported in the U.S. Labor Department's monthly employment surveys.

Of all the IT skills and certifications Foot Partners tracks, the two categories paying the highest average premiums are Architecture/Project management/Process certifications and Management/Methodology/Process noncertified skills. "There are probably more of these hybrid professionals earning additional skills pay in these areas than in most of the other categories we track," Foote said. "I would argue that this is in part being driven by the unique combination of skills and experience and subject matter expertise that they bring to their jobs and that ultimately makes them more valuable to their employers."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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