CIOs cautious about hiring

Do you believe the recovery is for real? A new study found that many CIOs still need convincing.

A new survey finds that while spending is picking up on some IT projects, CIOs are still generally cautious about their third quarter hiring intentions.

Robert Half Technology (RHT) in San Francisco analyzed interviews with 1,400 CIOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with more than 100 employees and found that 8% plan to add IT staff during the third quarter. Another 3% said they were planning cutbacks, while 88% expected to maintain current personnel levels.

The research firm found that 51% of the CIOs who plan to hire new IT staff in the third quarter cited business expansion as the main reason and found that the number of CIOs talking about business expansion has increased steadily over the past two quarters.

Systems upgrades and projects designed to increase customer and end-user support were the next biggest reasons for hiring.

"There were a lot of (projects) during the economic downturn that were shelved and are now getting picked back up," said Jeff Markham, metro market manager for RHT. "A lot of the technology investments, initiatives and projects that were undertaken during the boom time are now reaching or getting close to their lifecycle" and need to be upgraded.

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Three months ago, some CIOs were in hiring mode.

Other analysts think that new jobs are on the way.

Markham said that projects most likely to get greenlighted fall into the areas of customer intelligence and CRM because they are seen as key to cutting costs and increasing revenue. "Right now profit is king," Markham said. "Projects that… can either increase profits directly or indirectly or decrease costs are projects that are getting done."

The CIO survey also found that Microsoft Windows administration remains the skill set most CIOs are looking for in perspective employees. RHT said that executives at the largest companies are most optimistic about upcoming hiring plans, and the largest employment growth is forecast to occur in the West North Central and Mid-Atlantic U.S. states.

About 84% of all CIOs interviewed cited Microsoft Windows administrations skills when asked which skills were needed most within their IT departments. Visual Basic development and Check Point firewall administration skills ranked second and third among desired skills, with 46% and 41% of the responses respectively.

Technology executives in the business services sector are most optimistic about hiring. The survey found that 15% of CIOs in this sector plan to add employees, and 2% expect cutbacks. The net 13% hiring increase here is eight percentage points above the national average. CIOs in the wholesale and finance and insurance and real estate industries forecast a net 8% hiring increase in the third quarter.

"I think in general that most CIOs are continuing to wait and see if the recovery is real," said Tom Bishop, the CTO of the Austin, Texas-based VIEO, a management appliance vendor. "I think the economic conditions of the last several years are still fresh in peoples' minds."

Bishop said that a number of uncontrollable economic factors such as potential terrorist attacks on the U.S., the price of oil and the upcoming presidential election figure into CIOs cautious outlook on hiring. "All of those things are being factored into a set of thinking that says, 'you know we can afford to wait one more quarter and see what is going to happen to the economy,'" he said.

"I think that organizations have to make a basic risk assessment that looks at the likelihoods of different economic conditions and the appropriate spending profiles to take in each of those different scenarios."

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