Evolving IT skill sets: Seven roles that should be on CIOs' radar

This tip looks at the IT skill sets that most likely will be outsourced, and at seven skill sets CIOs will be scrambling to fill.

This is the third in a series of three stories about the factors shaping the IT organization of the future. In

this story, Andrew Horne, managing director at The Corporate Executive Board Company (CEB), outlines seven new IT skill sets that reflect "fundamental" changes under way in enterprise IT organizations. In the first story, CIOs and experts explore the transformation of IT into a services business and potentially into a component of an enterprise business services organization. In the second story, experts describe the business and technology drivers that could change the CIO role significantly, as well as the role of IT within the business.

Andrew HorneAndrew Horne

IT organizations and their underlying IT skill sets face a fundamental change in their role and sources of value. That is the conclusion of The Corporate Executive Board Company's research report, "The Future of Corporate IT," which surveyed executives at 127 enterprise organizations. It looks in depth at each driver of change, but to summarize the results: Information management will gain in importance relative to process automation, and IT will deliver end-to-end services and transform itself into a multifunctional services group. As this occurs, many delivery operations will be externalized -- increasingly, to the cloud -- and technology-savvy business leaders and end users will take greater responsibility for IT decision making.

As IT organizations change, so will average IT skill sets. Employees will have skills in stakeholder management, risk management or usability design, rather than in server administration or coding; some will find themselves in as-yet-unknown roles, such as collaboration specialist or service architect. As few as 25% of the current employee headcount will remain within corporate IT, while as many as 30% will move to multifunctional shared services groups or to business units. The rest probably will relocate to external providers.

Despite their severity, most IT organizations are unaware of and unprepared for these changes. Sixty-one percent lack comprehensive workforce plans, and as many as 80% fail to provide training in critical skills.

To help CIOs understand how to respond to these changes, CEB analyzed 109 IT skills and 30 IT roles. We validated the analysis in interviews and surveys with more than 60 organizations. As a result, we've found that as IT becomes a broker and integrator rather than a services provider, more IT roles will be needed to coordinate among business partners, oversee integration, set information standards and manage security. We estimate that IT strategist, service manager and information architect are the roles that will see the greatest increase in importance. Demand for these roles and for roles in security and business architecture will more than double.

Another common theme across these IT roles is the importance of challenger skills. Being a challenger involves many of the skills found in effective account managers or sales executives. For example, challengers take a proactive stance toward business partners, and demonstrate they are able to teach, tailor messaging and when required, assert a degree of control.

CIOs not only have to expand the talent pipeline for key existing IT roles, they also have to be prepared to fill a number of new ones, the most critical of which are the following seven:

  • Head of multifunctional shared services
  • Collaboration or social media evangelist
  • Service architect
  • Technology broker
  • Cloud integration specialist,
  • Information insight enabler
  • User experience designer

Cloud computing, service management, information management and collaboration all will require roles that are rare today and could include:

  • Technology brokers: individuals who understand a segment of the technology market and act as advisers to help service managers and business partners obtain the technology services they need.
  • Collaboration specialist: employees who understand collaboration technologies, but more importantly have insight into collaborative behaviors and workflows.
  • Information insight: enablers who analyze and interpret information, and user-experience specialists who improve interface design and technology usability.

Employees in these three IT roles will need to understand how and why knowledge workers use technology to be productive; in this respect, they are more like anthropologists than technologists.

Technical expertise will be retained in architecture and integration roles to pull together disparate business demands and equally disparate cloud providers. Most IT roles involved in delivering applications and infrastructure will be externalized, however, leading to decreases of 80% or more of these roles within corporate IT.

This is not to say that technology expertise will become less important in the economy as a whole, just that increasingly employees with deep technology skills will pursue their careers with vendors and service providers, not with corporate IT. The immediate task for CIOs here is clear messaging that lets staff with technical expertise know that to stay within the organization they will need to build IT skills in such areas as integration or architecture. If such employees prefer to remain focused on technology development and delivery, their long-term outlook could be better suited elsewhere.

Navigating these changes requires both hiring and retraining. CIOs and their partners in human resources will have to cast a wider recruiting net. We estimate that seven new or expanded IT roles will be difficult to source within the IT department, because each requires a business background or experience in such specialized external roles as consulting. Conversely, only a few IT-related roles will require a deep technical background.

Rehiring alone will not suffice. In the near term, the downturn's lingering effects mean that many promising candidates are risk averse and unwilling to leave their current roles, so recruitment counterintuitively has become harder despite high unemployment. Lack of investment in training suggests that over the longer term, many organizations intend to rely on recruitment to fill their talent needs, with skills shortages the inevitable consequence.

A first step to avoid these shortages is to develop a multiyear IT workforce plan that should forecast which roles and skills will be needed and when, and outline the necessary training investments and hiring plans. The plan should align with the company's strategy and be an integral part of its IT strategy. Workforce planning requires the full involvement of the IT leadership team and cannot be left to HR.

This is exactly the sort of forethought that IT organizations need if they are to avoid IT skills shortages and lead, not lag behind, the upcoming changes in corporate IT.

About the author:
Andrew Horne is managing director at The Corporate Executive Board Company's Information Technology practice and managing director for the CEB's CIO Executive Board, a global best practices network. Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

This was first published in July 2011

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