How the role of the IT professional is changing

Aruba Networks have released some interesting research called 20/20 vision into how the role of the IT professional is evolving. The research which was conducted in partnership with Phillip Brown at Cardiff University details some interesting implications for those with a career in IT. If you are working as an IT Manager in any sized organisation you may have noticed the changes already and Chris Kozup from Aruba Networks is here to discuss their findings from research into just how that evolution is taking place.

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Chris Kozup introduces us to the research and the reasoning the research.

Aruba has carried out research in respect of what is happening to the state of IT and specifically to the IT professional. The reason for this is that we see a lot of trends on the market place that are really reshaping the role of IT and so it was our goal to do both qualitative and quantitive research combine those findings together and take a look at essentially what the evolution is of the IT professional based on a lot of key the trends in the market place. Trends like BYOD, cloud and virtualization are all having significant impact on the types of skills that IT professionals need in order to be successful and also where they need to go to get those skills.

What were the knowledge gaps that lead you to conduct this research?

First and foremost obviously we spend a lot of time with the IT professional and I think part of this was trying to understand what the impact of a lot of the technology shifts that are occurring in the market place, things like consumerisation of IT. What the impact of that is on our customers and obviously those enterprises that are yet to be our customers. Some of the key findings included the fact that more and more we are expecting the IT professionals to build on communication skills. The key take away from this report was actually that communication skills will be more important than technical skills to the IT professional by 2020.

Did you find that there is somewhat of a skills shortage within the IT profession at the moment?

There is definitely a shortage in technical skills, but also skills around business interest. Both of these are often hard to come by and if we take a deeper look into each of those, first and foremost we see that technical skills are increasingly becoming more and more specialized. We actually expect that increasingly organizations will have to look outside to find the appropriate technical skills that they need and in fact what our research shows is that 76% of the respondents expect that the number of projects that are outsourced to specialists will increase. So this certainly shows the dynamic where the enterprise IT department is expecting to have more and more of a challenge keeping up with a lot of the deep technical expertise. That now creates an opportunity for many, certainly for partners and for consultants and the like it creates an opportunity for them from enterprises looking to find those pockets of deep expertise.

The other thing that we found here is a need for the ‘communicator’ as we will call them; this individual understands the impact of IT and can transfer that into the language of the business. This role is going to become more and more important to IT in the future. I think the impact on a lot of IT departments is that they have to think about the type of person they are looking to bring into the organization. Often the person who is very technically adept may not necessarily be the right profile of individual that is going to be the most successful in driving the IT department forward in the business. Rather looking for those individuals who have very strong communication skills, very strong writing skills that have the ability to understand different audiences and craft a message based on those audiences. That type of skillset we believe will become more and more critical for IT especially as IT becomes more fundamental to the success of the business.

You worked with Cardiff University on creating this report, is this something that they have taken note of for the education of students?

Absolutely and in fact Phillip Brown is the professor of work employment and the labour market at Cardiff University and he gave us a lot of great insight. He played a significant role in crafting the direction of this study and the findings of the report but certainly we see a lot of work going on both from Aruba as well as generally in the IT industry in terms of interfacing with students earlier and getting a lot of curriculum around not only technology but increasingly a lot of the soft skills that are required by a professional as they come out of University. This will ensure they can combine effectively the IT skillset together with a lot of the soft skills that ultimately will help them to be successful in this new environment.

What problems arise from a lack of communication between IT teams and their businesses?

Essentially at macro level the biggest problem is the loss of competitive advantage because quite frankly these days IT is such a critical piece of any business that if you have this disconnect between the IT department and the business itself then the business is not going to be able to optimize to the level that it is required in order to maintain competitive advantage within the market place. This linkage between IT and business is really critical and we believe that it is not so much about the technical attitude of the IT department but more about how that IT department is able to understand the trends in the business and listen to the users in the business and be able to adapt solutions to the requirement of those users and then deploy and maintain that technology for them.

Is it a shift then from the IT department’s stereotypical image of being stuck in a cupboard somewhere to having a more central role in business?

That is absolutely right and this is good news because if you think about the career path for the average IT professional, that old stereotype is not a very glamorous career path in some respects. Whereas today with IT playing such a significant role in the success of the business we in fact see more and more likelihood that even the ranks of the CEO can originate out of the IT discipline. One of the things that came up quite a lot in the focus group that we conducted with all levels of IT professionals was this expectation that we will see an increase of the CIO rank moving into the CEO rank and that is great news in general for the IT professional because it means that ultimately their strategic value to the business is only going to increase from here.

Something that stood out to me was the statement in this report from Aruba that 30% of the workforce will know more about the devices they use for work than the IT department – this may have serious implications for IT departments surely?

I think that the underlying trend that drives that is of course BYOD and in some respects this is an acknowledgement by IT that historically IT was the ‘be all and end all’ of technology. If we had a technical question we knew that we could go to the IT department and most likely find the wisest IT person who had all the answers about technology. These days the reality is that the average new person entering the workforce is going to know more about certainly consumer technology than often the IT individual will. So, this is somewhat of an acknowledgement by IT that the role of technical specialist whilst still important will be affected by the fact that more and more users are becoming tech savvy. That role actually becomes a little less important again hence the shift towards more communication of policies and communication of change. It is a kind of embarrassment from IT that often they will be dealing with the user who knows as much if not more about the solutions that they are using because they have chosen them. In many cases the IT department will know that the skill set change here that is required is understanding how to interface with that new class of user and then understanding how to establish the policies for acceptable use of that new technology.

Does the fact that the devices and technologies in use in organisations now are designed to be so user friendly, so easy to integrate and so robust meant that IT departments are no longer really needed to program things and fix technical issues, really what they focus on is communicating the benefits of these technologies to the rest of the company instead?

You have hit it spot on and I think the other part of that is not just in terms of how to set up or configure devices or applications, which increasingly have become more and more user friendly. We have dramatically changed the interface between the technological guts of the IT system and it’s user to the point where we have abstracted a lot of the complexity around how to use and set up that. The implications of this also in terms of IT departments themselves is that the everyday person does not really need to know how to configure a product because through self help guides and graphical interfaces a lot of these tools have made it easy. Even within Aruba’s own technology we deliver ways in which the IT manager or the network manager can very simply install new products without having to actually touch the product, they can literally ship it to a remote location and ask a non IT skilled person to essentially plug it in to a power point and the product will configure itself. It is this type of change that means that technical expertise at times is less critical in IT today. Once again we come back to the primary point of being able to communicate to the business and being able to understand the needs of the business being far more important and will become increasingly more so in the future.

We mustn’t forget the people that want to join the IT profession because they don’t want to be making presentations but would rather be fixing problems, building things and dealing with just the technical side of IT. Is there still going to be a place for these people or are they better off finding work with these companies that are supplying technical services as part of the increased outsourcing you mention?

I think ultimately that skill set is still going to be required because I don’t think we ever abstract to the point that we will become dummies so to speak. I think we are always going to have a need for the technical expert. The point that you bring up is though, does their become a shift in where that persons skills are most highly valued? I think the answer is probably ‘yes’ and the good news for those people is that moving into more of an on-demand or product based model actually probably bodes pretty well for the potential for that role to be quite lucrative. I don’t think we are saying that this class of individual who likes to get into the detailed technology, configuration and troubleshooting will go away but it does potentially mean that where those individuals sit in the ecosystem will change. It is also the case that those skills will remain certainly highly valued.