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Thu 31 Aug 2006 08:00 PM

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Is there a career future in it?

Todd McGregor, managing director of Forrester Middle East, asks if there is a future for enterprise IT professionals.

Are traditional career paths for enterprise IT professionals still feasible in the face of outsourcing, offshoring, and downsizing? Forrester recently interviewed 55 IT and expert executives to learn their views. What did they discover? Enterprise IT execs are optimistic but not proactive in reinforcing the attractiveness of an IT career.

But enterprise IT is as attractive as it has ever been, taking on a less technical and more business-focused shape. The new IT career paths meander into and out of IT.

Entrances and exits to and from business groups and ecosystem partners are not only possible but accepted and routine. These IT paths span IT sourcing, architecture, management, and innovation. IT executives must step up to reinvigorate the IT career, getting it done with the help of consortia, partners, and universities.

After the dot-com bubble burst, the bloom all but disappeared from the rosy enterprise IT career image of the late 1990s. Many IT workers lost their jobs during a wave of costcutting; the press overflowed with stories about jobs going offshore; and IT-related University and graduate programmes watched their enrolments plummet.

However, the job market has picked up and there will even be shortages in the future. CIOs are reporting an increased need for and competition to recruit IT work and workers - and the pay is far better than the average worker's wage. In the Forrester research involving the 55 CIOs, HR managers, university deans, and IT career experts we asked them about their perceptions of IT's career potential and current and future paths.

IT execs endorse the career but don't necessarily hold the door open. While most of the IT execs professed that IT is an attractive career option, they are not necessarily hiring IT grads into entry-level positions in their own organisations. Project complexity, specialised needs, or inadequate University preparation and curriculum may disqualify IT graduates from stepping into the roles that IT needs to fill, according to interviewees.

IT organisations are shrinking and becoming more specialised. Cost pressures from the rest of the business have driven many IT organisations to cut staff headcount through outsourcing and offshoring.

While some IT organisations seek well-rounded IT workers, "lean and mean" IT organisations are hiring only to plug specialised skill gaps.

CIOs worry that without an increase in the IT pipeline, this narrow talent pool of specialists will spark a minor talent war in high-demand skill sets - for example, COBOL programming or Oracle database administration.

Retirement is looming for many roles in IT. As baby boomers retire between now and 2020, they are taking their specialised knowledge and legacy skills with them, raising transition and succession planning issues. Where is the pain being felt the most? Government agencies and some industries, like insurance and utilities, unable or unwilling in the near term to replace these systems with more modern technologies or packaged applications. Banks and insurance companies which depend on transaction-intensive systems that are written in COBOL will be especially hard hit.

Every IT role is trained - except the new CIO.With the meandering of IT careers into, out of, and back and forth from ecosystem providers and enterprise IT, new CIOs regularly will surface in enterprise IT who have not previously worked in that environment. On the plus side, they bring plenty of business and services experience. On the downside, no training program prepares them for motivating IT staff members in the face of a request onslaught and unappreciative users; managing infrastructure service levels; or establishing IT strategies, processes, metrics, or measurements - or making sure that the right governance processes are in place and that top execs know the value that they're getting from IT.

So despite a lingering nerdy image (not my perception at all by the way!) and the fact that it might still be called IT, the role of the IT Group, and more specifically the CIO, has morphed sharply from all back-office work to the front-and-centre interaction with business unit clients.

This business exposure and changes in requirements of skill sets makes the interest in the CIO role far more compelling to potential CIOs and equally so to existing CIOs.

Long live the career future in Enterprise IT!.