The Importance of Business/IT Hybrids

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Earlier this year I wrote a post in which I made a case for hiring IT generalists, folks versed in different areas of IT rather than a single narrow speciality. Though versatility is a strength in almost any employee, it makes particular sense in the fast-moving world of technology.


With the increasing demand for IT pros who are as comfortable with business as with technology, it also makes sense for companies to recruit professionals interested in moving from IT roles to business roles and back. Companies including Johnson & Johnson, State Street, W.W. Grainger, General Mills and Xerox are hiring folks with this kind of flexibility, reports Computerworld. They are recruiting and retaining these workers with job-rotation programs and flexible career paths.


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, a transition still seen as unusual at most companies. At Xerox, the former head of IT architecture now manages the company's global supply chain. (No doubt using the IT architect's ability to recognize and optimize interrelationships.)


As Xerox CIO John McDermott puts it:

The previously impenetrable wall between IT and the business became permeable.

With the notably shortsighted approach that some companies take in training IT staff, it's heartening to hear about General Mills' average tenure of 13 years for IT staffers (16 years for IT managers). Turnover is below the industry average of 5 percent, and more than 15 percent of the company's IT pros hold MBAs. Says Mike Martiny, its vice president of information systems:

Having an MBA is something we value because of our business process focus. The main focus is on the business and always has been.

While business chops are important, says Martiny, technical competency is "the starting point for everything."


These kinds of "hybrid" employees, writes Julie Hunt on her Highly Competitive blog, help facilitate collaboration across different business functions. She says:

Hybrid roles are intersection points for cross-team expertise, collaboration and communication. People in hybrid roles understand many different perspectives both internal and external to the company. The hybrid professional works to integrate multiple perspectives in work being done with multiple teams. Hybrids have real potential for broadly connecting the dots in new ways, to help company innovation and competitiveness. For software companies, what hybrids can do somewhat parallels the "good kind" of integration and convergence of solution spaces, and even of the companies themselves, into new entities.

Hunt shares a job posting she found online for a business analyst/financial accounting/developer role. Among the requirements: background in accounting and general knowledge of GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles); excellent communications skills; bachelor's degree in accounting, finance or related; and five-plus years working in technology as a systems analyst or developer.


Among the current barriers to hybrids in the workplace, says Hunt, are difficulties in creating appropriate job titles, and senior managers and HR professionals who don't yet understand the importance of hybrid employees.