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IT evolution: Studies say best practices should evolve with changing business climate

Information technology executives should consider their evolving businesses when hiring, molding or managing workers, and act on lessons learned during the recession, prominent researchers recommend.

In its recent report, “IT Staffing Trends to Watch in 2010,” Forrester Research Inc. said “new technologies, increased outsourcing and cost-reduction initiatives are changing IT’s staffing and skill requirements.” 

The findings in Forrester’s report by Marc Cecere showed that three trends have influenced IT staffing specifications:

• Technologies such as software-as-a-service and real-time business intelligence are maturing and changing the skills that IT staff require by demanding that employees have greater knowledge of data integration, applications and suppliers.

• Increasing use of outsourced IT services — more than a third of the companies surveyed said they intend to expand their level of outsourcing — will require greater management sophistication and new skills to effectively govern such service providers.

• IT operations will continue to evolve as department directors or chief information officers look for ways to leverage resources and cut costs. 

The Cambridge, Mass.-based research and consulting firm surveyed 128 information technology decision makers for the study.

Another 2010 survey-based report by Forrester found that some businesses are responding to such changes through the use of Millennials, or the so-called Internet generation of individuals born in 1980 or later. They are doing that, Forrester said, by using Millennials for “low-cost, adaptable labor and to provide different perspectives within IT.”

Attracting quality job candidates from among Millennial workers “requires different tactics from recruiting experienced IT staff,” explained the executive summary of the report, “CIOs: Capture Benefits from Entry-Level IT staff.” Tactics include the use of the recruiting company’s website, referrals from its current employees, internships or other relationship-building mechanisms tied to local schools and, increasingly, tie-ins to social-media platforms.

CIOs must manage human resources better even when they have talent where needed, Forrester’s latest Workforce Technographics study pointed out.

There is a “deep divide between the recognition [IT] workers want and what they actually get from their employers,” and many are uncertain if company-advocated teamwork is really embraced by their direct managers, the study noted. Also contributing to worker dissatisfaction, the report indicated, is that many “crave time and location flexibility in their careers ... but don’t get those freedoms.”

Because it will only get harder to retain highly educated employees as the economy recovers, IT department managers should “learn to tap the self-interests of information workers to retain talent, improve productivity and drive workforce innovation,” Forrester advised.

Prepare for downturns

Stamford, Conn.-based research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. recently served up some sobering advice to CIOs in the report, “Plan for a Second Recession, Now.” The firm considers that warning a good recommendation, given recent turbulence in global stock and capital markets, depressed housing prices and relatively high unemployment. 

Gartner recommends that IT directors or CIOs take the following actions:

Enlist C-level action now. Enterprise executives should convene immediately to draw up downturn response guidelines before new problems, if any, arise.

Focus on the current fiscal year. Review approved projects and determine which ones could be postponed or canceled altogether should another major downturn occur, and then “Focus on the Next Fiscal Year,” by following the same drill while drawing up the 2011 budget.

Use zero-based budgeting. All business unit leaders should be required to sign documents affirming their understanding of the one-time and ongoing costs involved in implementing 2011 IT projects, as well as the ongoing expense of existing IT applications. 

“Our bottom-line advice is to prepare the ‘second recession’ plan, rehearse the ‘second recession’ plan, and hope that you never have to use the ‘second recession’ plan,” said Gartner vice president and fellow Ken McGee.

Outsourcing on the rise 

Late last year, Gartner said, it polled 213 U.S. organizations with experience using external IT service providers. Among other uses, the company applied the findings to the report, “Survey Analysis: U.S. IT Services Buyers’ Focus on ‘Run the Business’ May Thwart Providers’ Efforts to Introduce Higher Value Services.”

The survey found that 48 percent of U.S. organizations expect to increase their spending for outsourced services in 2010, Gartner said. Overall, it continued, the trend is to move toward adopting maturing technologies with manageable risk, “indicating that the economic crisis has brought more conservatism to technology adoption.”

According to Gartner, U.S. services buyers indicated their top drivers for outsourcing are the reduction of IT operating costs and the ability to better ensure IT services availability. It noted that 60 percent of U.S. buyers said they renegotiated service contracts in the past two years, while 47 percent said they used offshore services delivery.

Summing up the current outsourcing environment, Gartner vice president and analyst Allie Young wrote, “The strengthening influence of the CFO and procurement [department] in many U.S. organizations seen in the past two years will continue to have an impact, thus keeping pressure on IT budgets and cost control but also opening up some issues of service quality.”

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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