Is IT working hard for the money?

When we hit the phones and interviewed a random sample of respondents to July’s InfoWorld Compensation Survey, we got an earful about what’s really happening in IT

In InfoWorld’s recent Compensation Survey for IT, we crunched the numbers and ended up with a clear picture of the major trends. Overall, the respondents said they were satisfied with their salaries, bonuses, stock options, and training. But were they happy?

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In a special tribute to Labor Day, InfoWorld followed up with some of those same people, as well as many others, and asked them to be even more specific in describing their work lives. Our questions followed up on several of the trends suggested by our survey: Are you working harder? Are you under more pressure? What about your sense of job security?

The answers to these questions were mixed. For the most part, our interviewees described their work environment as more pressure-filled than ever. But they also appear to be getting the kind of support, in both money and resources, to maintain a decent level of job satisfaction. Are IT people gluttons for punishment? Or do they simply know how to leverage their smarts to survive?

Wised-up work habits
Rohm & Haas provides a typical example of how new, innovative work strategies can help. A global chemical company with 18,000 employees and a full-time IT staff of 600 and another 300 contract IT workers, Rohm & Haas takes the cliché “work smarter not harder” to heart by using a combination of standardization, outsourcing, and software-as–a-service to maintain a work routine that averages 40 to 45 hours per week for its IT staff.

"Our goal is to make sure technology is used to make us more business-flexible," says Scott Megill, enterprise architect and program manager at Rohm & Haas.

"The budgets don’t increase so we have to do more with the money we have. But we are not pushing the people," Megill says. Instead, the company is pushing to become more operationally efficient.

One way Rohm & Haas is doing that is by outsourcing work that lacks strategic value. The question Megill often asks is: "Could someone else do this job more easily and at a lower cost than we could?" For example, says, Megill, several years back they decided to offload e-mail to an outsourcer. "We are a chemical company. Why should we maintain staff that knows how to fight spam?"

Another way R & H keeps operational costs down is by standardizing: Lenovo for all desktops and broad deployment of SAP R/3 on the enterprise software side.

"We now have a single global instance of SAP and that is the backbone of our IT infrastructure," Megill says. Using SAP as the primary tool to support the business and a successful migration from mainframes to 100 percent WinTel servers on the back end has helped Rohm & Haas IT staffers maintain a relatively normal workweek.

Economies of scale
Standardization is also how Text 100, a global public relations firm, is keeping operational costs and IT staff hours under control.

Text 100 uses similar desktops and servers throughout the organization, which maintains 30 offices worldwide, according to Brad Bartman, global IT support manager.

"If a server failed a few years ago it would be difficult for me to hand that over to someone when it was time to go home. Now it is easy to do a handover thanks to standardized servers. Someone in Australia can take over the issue and handle it from there," Bartman says.

Collaboration technology is another key component in today's IT infrastructure. Text 100 regularly launches collaborative test projects across regions in preparation for large, simultaneous rollouts across countries and multiple languages.

"We use portal technology as the collaborative method. Using it to track things, as far as documentation on what people are experiencing in different countries, Gannt charts to track projects, and calendars as well," Bartman says.

Another large enterprise with 2,500 IT employees, which prefers to remain anonymous, is also using standardization to great effect. "The goal is to try and leverage the various divisional efforts to identify opportunities for standards or at the very least publish a repository of patterns and best practices," says one the company’s lead enterprise architects. "We're trying to trim the fat out of our SDLC [Systems Development Life Cycle] processes and maintenance processes without necessarily looking for additional automation."

Application efficiencies
Even when you squeeze every drop of value out of current systems, sometimes you need to invest in new technology in order to work smarter, says Rick Faszold, manager of systems at St. Anthony's Medical Center in St. Louis. Using Microsoft’s SoftGrid application virtualization technology has reduced system crashes by 75 percent, says Faszold.

"Because the applications are containerized I can run anything I want to run together with far fewer system crashes," Faszold says.

Prior to SoftGrid, Faszold estimates St. Anthony's spent about 1,500 people-hours a year fixing systems due to software problems.

SoftGrid works by keeping the applications from touching the registry and the Windows system directories, while allowing the application to load everything it needs to run.

Despite Faszold's best efforts at reducing operational hours via technology, the competitive nature of the health care industry is taking its toll. His staff has gone from putting in an average of 50 hours per week two years ago to 58 hours per week now.

Doing the right thing
Overall, our interviews left us with the impression that today's companies are far hipper than even ten years ago in making concerted efforts to keep worker satisfaction high, long hours notwithstanding.

The InfoWorld 2007 Compensation Survey found that among IT staff, more than 80 percent of employees were “satisfied” to “very satisfied” with the balance between work fulfillment and salary. In fact, among IT staff, 71 percent said they were fairly compensated.

Part of the reason for that may be that many companies have learned to treat their workers with respect. "It is incumbent upon management to figure out ways to support people, because workloads are tough. We had to realize we are still people with families," Faszold says. For example, St. Anthony’s offers extra time off to take care of family needs.

Despite IT managers’ claims that doing more with less has not put a great strain on their departments, employers do demand more from new hires, favoring candidates with skill sets considerably broader than was the rule in past eras.

"Companies are looking for people who can ride multiple horses," says Kevin Haugh, senior director of products at talent management company Workstream. IT people need to have more than one competency, says Haugh, and not just in technology. With the increase in outsourcing, good management skills among permanent employees who work on-site are more highly valued.

Stacey Epstein, vice president of marketing at Success Factors, concurs. Epstein says that, while it’s important to make the most of the talent you have, it’s also critical that you avoid overworking people. "You won't get where you want to go by telling people they need to work another four hours," she says. Managing talent and rewarding people for hitting goals is the way to go.

And it’s more important than ever to keep people happy. Recent interviews with IT managers and talent management executives indicate that a major talent war is occurring in IT. The reasons? Baby boomers are retiring and the educational system is not replacing them fast enough. And the relentless pace of technology creates demand for those well versed in the latest and greatest (AJAX programmers are the current stars).

Yes, as our compensation survey indicates, stress in IT may be high. But when hasn’t it been that way? Working in IT is all about adapting to change, and if our random sample is any indication, InfoWorld’s readers are coping pretty well. They’re even getting paid for the extra effort.

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