This content is part of the Essential Guide: A guide to TechTarget's 2015 IT salary survey

2015 salary survey: IT budgets rise for two-fifths of senior IT leaders

According to TechTarget's 2015 IT salary survey, a majority of senior IT executives said their IT budget and headcount either grew or remained stable this year.

Phil Stasko is among a select group of senior IT leaders who saw both their headcounts and IT budgets rise sharply in 2015. Stasko, director of IS at environmental consultancy Apex Co. LLC, not only saw his IT budget increase by an impressive 20% this year over 2014, but he also boosted his IT staff by 30%.

Stasko's experience, however -- a healthy budget increase combined with robust hiring in 2015 -- was not the case for many IT leaders, according to TechTarget's 2015 Annual IT Salary and Careers Survey.

Specifically, the 2015 salary survey reported that 39% of IT budgets increased in 2015; 35% of budgets were flat. The results are similar to those in 2014 and 2013, when the majority of IT organizations either saw budgets go up (42% and 40%, respectively) or stay the same (39% and 36%, respectively). The average budget increase this year was also the same as last year -- 14%.

In what may prove to be a worrisome sign, 21% of IT leaders saw budgets decrease in 2015, up from 15% in 2014, and the average decrease was larger: 13% in 2015 versus 9.9% in 2014.

2015 IT department budgets

2015 salary survey says IT headcounts flat

The numbers on IT staffing also showed few signs of change, according to the 2015 salary survey, which polled 248 senior IT executives, identified as CIOs, CTOs, executive vice presidents, and directors of IT and information security. Nearly half (44%) of all senior leaders described headcount as flat or lower (19%) this year, virtually the same as in 2014 (44% flat and 21% lower); 33% said they added staff this year, the same percentage as in 2014. In 2015, 19% of IT organizations saw headcount go down, about the same as in 2014 (21%).

2015 IT department headcount

Moreover, the outlook for staffing does not look especially bright. Only 31% of those surveyed said they were looking to hire next year, slightly less than the 36% in 2014. Plus, close to half (46%) said their organizations are fully staffed, a big jump over the 34% reporting the same last year and another indication that IT organizations are not looking to get bigger. On the upside, only 11% said they were under a hiring freeze versus 18% in 2014.

2015 IT department hiring

Acquisitions, change in leadership spur budget increase

Apex's Stasko said the 20% boost in his IT budget went mainly to deferred maintenance and was due largely to a change in attitude about the value of IT by top management.

A couple of years ago, his IT organization was focused primarily on cost-cutting. Getting approval for hardware and software purchases, even modest ones, typically hinged on finding the least expensive option, Stasko said.

That changed with the arrival of a new CEO two years ago. "He immediately said, 'We've got to improve everything; we've got to get up to speed,'" he said.

Getting up to speed included a major upgrade to the company's network system, replacing old switches with gigabit, high-end wireless access points and implementing a new accounting system.

The latter project, which began in June of last year and continued through April, accounted for much of the budget and hiring increases in 2015, Stasko said, requiring not only a large team of internal staff, but also hiring six consultants.

Many of the new hires are developers tasked with building out user-friendly, Web-based applications for the accounting system, with the aim of improving how people do their jobs.

"Instead of [employees] having to go learn the accounting system ... we're serving it up via the cloud, with minimal training; it's more intuitive," he said, adding that the IT organization is now seen as a value-add, rather than just a cost center.

Not surprisingly, Stasko was among the 65% of respondents who said the mood at their organizations was optimistic in the 2015 salary survey. "You do all the stuff, you feel like you're pounding your head against the wall, you don't think it's doing anything -- then you hear people actually say that this went well."

The major upgrades are happening as Apex is growing dramatically through acquisitions. The company added three or four companies in 2014, and is planning to buy up to six more companies in 2016.

Indeed, Stasko predicts that his will budget go up another 10% in 2017 to help integrate the new companies, beef up his application development group and add business intelligence expertise.

T-shaped employees make up for budget cuts

Unlike Stasko, Rick Fortney, CIO of Laramie County in Wyoming, saw his $1.8 million IT budget shrink by 1.5% in 2015, and he expects more cuts to come in 2016, as his staff wraps up major IT projects involving migrating legacy systems. The work includes the conversion of the county's legacy mainframe system to a Windows-based system, which Fortney said will better meet the needs of the county's many agencies, including the 911 center, the sheriff's office and the Cheyenne police department.

IT consolidation is a high priority for Fortney, who has served as Laramie County IT director since 1993. Consolidation offers economies of scale his department couldn't leverage when each agency used its own systems.

"You couldn't necessarily afford the security and the high availability that we build into our environment if we were supporting the county treasurer's office only, because on one hand, it would be hard to justify that high level of security and high availability," he said. "Consolidating everything -- everybody gets the benefit of what we're doing."

That said, finding the right IT people to do the work is one of his perennial challenges, added Fortney, who currently has a staff of 15. He felt fortunate to add a staff member this year who not only knew systems and services, but could also work as backup support to the one employee running telecommunications and electronic security.

"The workload is getting too much, plus too critical to just have one person who's knowledgeable on it," Fortney said.

Fortney's approach to hiring someone with broad technology expertise -- sometimes referred to a T-shaped person -- is consistent with the hiring practices by Laramie County, where employees are highly valued and layoffs are rare, he said.

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