Bring on the Hybrids: CIOs Make Staffing Shifts

Ann All
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Like writers at most technology trade publications, I and my colleagues here at IT Business Edge tend to focus on in-demand technical skills when we write about IT careers. While the right kinds of technical skills can certainly land folks a job (mobile development, anyone?), employers are increasingly looking for a somewhat fuzzier blend of IT and business skills.


IT Business Edge's Susan Hall wrote about what she called a continuing fundamental shift in IT earlier this week, citing the contention of Foote Partners' analyst David Foote that the Labor Department's reports on IT job growth overlook the fastest-growing positions, namely IT-business hybrids who are comfortable with soft skills like project management and vendor management.


While many folks attribute this shift in skills to growth in cloud computing, offshoring and managed services, they've got it backwards. Foote says globalization and business demands for agility are the real drivers. While some folks still seem stuck on the idea of using offshoring and the cloud simply to cut costs, others cite the factors Foote mentions as their top reasons to employ the cloud and offshoring.


There's plenty of data to support this in the 2011 Harvey Nash/PA Consulting Group CIO Survey, released on Monday. An eChannelLine item about the survey quotes Albert Ellis, Harvey Nash's CEO, who says CIOs are increasingly dependent on "a flexible, multi-sourced environment." According to the survey, 76 percent of CIOs say a flexible labor component comprises up to one-quarter of their work force. This includes contract, temporary and offshore workers.


Fewer than half (42 percent) of global CIOs think their IT organizations lack needed technology skills. This is a striking 16 percent drop from last year's survey. The most-desired skill sets for internal teams are business analysis (cited by 35 percent of respondents) and business-facing architecture (34 percent), according to a CIO.com UK article.


Fifty percent of respondents plan to increase their use of offshore service providers. Other recent surveys, including InformationWeek's 2011 Outsourcing Survey, tell a similar story. Only 3 percent of respondents to that survey reported they planned to scale back their outsourcing activities.


It seems fairly obvious, from these surveys and other evidence, that CIOs may be increasingly willing to outsource or use temporary resources to perform IT tasks such as application development (which 62 percent of Harvey Nash survey respondents make an outsourcing priority) while staffing up internally with "hybrid" business/IT skills.


Some companies, including W.W. Grainger, Johnson & Johnson, General Mills and Xerox, offer job rotation paths and flexible career paths to attract and retain these hybrids. As I noted in an earlier post, W.W. Grainger CIO Tim Ferrarell's tenure at the company includes stints in merchandising, product management, marketing and strategy. Grainger's CEO, Jim Ryan, is a former CIO. At Xerox, the former head of IT architecture now manages the company's global supply chain.

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