But adopting new technology doesn’t have to mean abandoning techies, and cutting costs doesn’t necessarily lead to cutting jobs.
For example, adopting an SOA can save money by making it cheaper to operate and maintain applications over their lifecycles and to bring new products to market, says Paul Patrick, chief architect for SOA at BEA Systems.
“Companies are looking at SOA not just to cut costs but also as a way to eat into their backlog of IT projects or initiate new ones they had never had the capacity to deal with before,” Patrick says. “We don’t typically see our customers using SOA to reduce head count, but we have seen them retraining or shifting personnel.”
Retraining is on the rise, and not just for tech workers whose expertise lies with legacy systems, says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing company.
“Technology changes every nine to 12 months, so there’s a constant need for retraining,” Lee says, adding that it’s usually cheaper and more effective to retrain current employees than to recruit new ones. “When you have someone who already understands how your company works, they’re often worth their weight in gold.”
Yet training in new technology or applications isn’t enough. To effectively manage change, employees must also develop so-called soft skills such as active listening and the ability to ask questions in a nonconfrontational way -- areas where IT pros are typically perceived as weak.
Northrop Grumman’s Shelman says learning how to manage change involved some trial and error and a lot of training in interpersonal skills.
“We recognized early on that something wasn’t working, so we had personal coaches come in and educate us,” Shelman says. “They’d sit in on the town halls and say, ‘This is what you said; let me tell you what people heard.’ It’s amazing to hear the difference between the words that came out of your mouth and the ones that went into other peoples’ heads.”
Adapt or die
Ultimately, Shelman says, it’s up to IT staffers themselves to hone their knowledge and get up to speed -- to see change as an opportunity rather than an obstacle.
“Most techs want to become part of whatever the ‘new’ is,” Shelman adds. “We try to encourage them, but we hold them accountable. My job is to help them. It’s not my job to do it for them.”
“Even as we move into an SOA-type world, the core skills are the same,” says Keith Glennan, CTO of Northrop Grumman. “Some of our most advanced technology folks came out of legacy backgrounds. They were good at what they did then, they’ve taken responsibility for managing their marketability, and they do a great job today.”
Mullins says one of Master Financial’s former telecom employees trained himself to become a networking geek after he’d been let go. “He realized that the move to VoIP wasn’t an isolated incident, so he’d better retool himself,” he says.
When techs are willing to adapt, disruptive technologies and tactics can be a boon for both them and the organizations that employ them.
“If done the right way, you rarely have to send out pink slips,” says PwC’s Horowitz. “More often than not, the guys you have doing lower-level IT jobs are able to move up to doing more knowledge-based work, things that truly add value to the organization.”