Tier 2: Business Specialists
The work of business specialists is matching the right IT tool to the business need at hand. These are super-IT-savvy business experts who understand how the business works, how transactions flow, what makes and loses money for the company, and where and how technology can help or hinder the business.
As futurist and Computerworld columnist Thornton A. May sees it, this is where the upwardly mobile career action is, as well as the greatest coolness factor. "IT's future revolves along three interrelated dimensions," May says, all of which converge in this IT career track. Those dimensions are innovation, which he defines as the ability to convert ideas into money; business analytics, which involves operations research, data mining, data integration, reporting, and statistics; and risk management, which requires a keen knowledge of business processes.
This is one of the best areas to look for work if your job is being automated or outsourced. "Each of these critical disciplines promises good future career opportunities," May says.
Regarding educational degrees, May anticipates a new breed of sheepskin, one that reflects both business knowledge and statistical analysis expertise.
Business specialists will play a leading role in various business functions, performing work that today can often only be performed in IT, says Tim Ferrarell, CIO at Chicago-based industrial distributor W.W. Grainger. In 2020, "technology will be easier to use. Therefore, it will be more prevalent in other parts of the business and not just the purview of IT," says Ferrarell. "We're more and more attracting and rotating people through business and IT functions so people understand how technology can be used to serve customers better. It's about having employees who are versatile and who know various technologies and business processes. It makes us more flexible and reduces risks. Rotation creates versatility."
"The IT role becomes much more about how to use technology to help the business rather than how we provide the technology," says Ken Harris, CIO at Shaklee, a nutritional products company in Pleasanton, Calif.
At Boston-based financial services company State Street, CIO Chris Perretta says that with a two-tiered IT workforce, "there are opportunities for our IT personnel to take much more of a leadership position on how business processes are designed in the long term."
State Street is formally defining the skill sets it wants in its workforce, says Perretta. Architectural skills are absolutely critical, and for pure technologists, "there's an opportunity to go much deeper into technology."
For those "with more of a business solutions bent, there is an opportunity to get upstream a lot farther," he says.
Harris puts it this way: "When IT people move out into the business, IT moves up the value chain," because it moves closer to the customer and closer to the revenue line. "Within the IT department, all the remaining IT roles require a higher level of proficiency," he says.
Ken Spangler, CIO at FedEx Ground, says his company has historically focused on the role of business specialists in managing large, complex projects. But going forward, it will further sharpen this focus, dedicating those experts to business functions so they can come up with technology solutions to business problems early on, before they have a chance to evolve into large projects.
"The transformation is well under way," he says.