Business Expertise Defines Top IT TalentBy Jack Cullen Print
Technical knowledge is a prerequisite, not a differentiating characteristic that IT departments are looking for in top talent.
IT professionals once were relegated to back offices, only surfacing when there was a problem. They played an extremely limited and non-strategic, one-dimensional role in the business.
Today that isn’t—and can’t be—the case. IT professionals have evolved into a mission-critical part of the company, playing a multi-dimensional role that is both business strategist and counselor. They also now hold a highly-coveted seat at the decision-making table.
This complex role is critical in the financial services sector, for example, where companies have face challenges brought on by new regulatory laws. Stricter regulation, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, has increased the need for these companies to develop sophisticated and formal risk management programs and processes.
The post-recessionary regulatory environment demands a new breed of IT professional, with talents that often include a strong background in accounting, mathematics, computer programming, statistics, and complex systems. Sticking with the example of financial services, the IT professionals most companies want exhibit a wide variety of experience across multiple parts of the business—desktop/trade support, database administration, business analytics, and many others. But just possessing these skills isn’t enough. The most in-demand IT talent also has proven leadership and management expertise to navigate teams through complex changes.
“It’s not about screwing phone systems into the wall, or swapping out hard drives—that’s the smallest part of the IT/business relationship,” says Rick Endres, president and founder of The Washington Network, a computer networking and phone systems company. “It’s all about being able to speak the language of the business, articulating IT strategy to decision makers and affecting the bottom line.”
No one dismisses the traditional technical skills that are a necessary foundation for any IT professional. But these days, having technical knowledge is a prerequisite, not a differentiating characteristic that IT departments are looking for in top talent.
The value of these individuals is immeasurable given the new role that technology is playing within companies. These professionals are the ones who stand to make a significant impact on the company that extends far beyond IT.
An IT veteran, Endres has served as CIO of the U.S. Congress, and through his company, he has helped many small businesses use IT with measurable success for over 25 years. He says, “the challenge for the IT professional is that you must specialize. You must live and breathe the vertical you’re in to become a power player and earn a seat at the table. You can’t just be the technician who happens to work at a law firm; you need to develop a fundamental understanding of the legal world and how IT speaks to the specific needs of legal professionals.”
The paper-intensive practice of law, for instance, makes advanced document management a necessity. “The document management system may require an API that ties into the billing and time management database, which in turn ties into their financial and accounting ledger,” he says. “All of these disparate systems are then tied together and maintained in a central knowledge base. IT professionals working in this environment—who understand legal regulations, financial requirements, document workflow best practices, and how all of these technologies work together to affect the bottom line—possess the truly multi-dimensional skills that companies seek today.”
The same need for consultative, insightful, and specialized IT pros extends to other industries—health care has its own complex system of regulations and technological needs, and travel runs on specialized booking databases.
Those who possess diverse skills are already in high demand. And because they have highly-marketable skills, they can earn top dollar. However, many companies are still reluctant to risk making high-level, permanent hires without the assurance that they can deliver results and be the right cultural fit. Employers often hire experienced consultants on a contract or project basis, who can ascertain needs and get projects off the ground quickly and efficiently.
There is a new sense of urgency as the glut of projects that were put on hold during the recession become corporate priorities today. Market-leading institutions will act quickly and nimbly to employ both temporary and full-time IT candidates to manage cutting edge technology implementations and achieve regulatory compliance.
Jack Cullen is the President of Modis IT Staffing.
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