Tomorrow's IT leaders need business acumen more than technical skills

By Dawinderpal Sahota
22 Feb 2011 View Comments

A wholesale shift in skills required for the IT profession is taking place, according to recruitment consultancy Modis International in a report released today.

The report, called State of the IT Market 2011, claims there are three business skills that jobseekers will require in the future, these are greater commercial acumen, strategic thinking and communication skills. It argued that these were of more value that the more traditional technical skills.

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The report states that commercial acumen is more important now than ever before because, as IT increasingly underpins business growth, it will become vital for IT professionals to understand what customers want.

This is a view that was backed up by six out of 10 of those surveyed in the report, and echoed by Paul Coby, chair of SITA, an IT body for the airline industry. He is also chair of the CIO Board at skills body e-Skills UK.

"Everything we do must connect back to our customers," he said.

"Each aspect of business needs to be optimised, improved and simplified through good IT for the company's product or service to be delivered to – and to delight – customers."

Strategic thinking is also key for a career in IT. As a result of the increased integration of IT with overall business objectives, IT professionals need to be able to take on a more strategic role.

Some 59 per cent of IT leaders surveyed by Modis believe that IT has to take responsibility for the challenges faced by the organisation as a whole, but at the moment, only 15 per cent of IT departments are regarded as strategic thinkers by their businesses.

"It wasn't long ago that arguments centred on whether an organisation even needed a CIO but reliance on technology is putting the CIO role at the heart of the business," commented Adam Thilthorpe, director for professionalism in IT at the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

And communication skills are essential for IT professionals, the report found, as IT leaders will be required to integrate with other disciplines in their organisations.

David Wilde, CIO at Westminster City Council, said he is seeing an increasing number of IT people who are great communicators.

"There are many brilliant IT leaders emerging – these are business people who are great with both technology and people," he said.

The report also stated that outsourcing should be considered as part of a mixed approach and that should not alarm IT workers as some IT roles will always be retained in-house.

Anthony Hayes, head of IT vendor management at Royal Mail, concurred with this: "Departments should keep their strategy, architecture and governance in-house, and outsource more day-to-day and routine functions. But you must also have the resource internally to manage your suppliers."

Myron Hryck, CIO at Severn Trent, also advocated a balanced approach: "Outsourcing is not inevitable, but when looking at your sourcing strategy it has to be part of the consideration.

"And cost is not the only driver. New skills, new technologies, more robust service levels, access to global markets, scalability – there's a tremendous amount to think about. If you see IT as a commoditised service you are in danger of giving away the brains of your organisation."

The report surveyed 110 senior IT decision makers, predominantly directors and heads of IT, from UK businesses of varying sizes and from a range of sectors.



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