People Who Need People

By John McCormick Print this article Print

Keeping your most valuable people, the information-technology professionals who give your company a leg up, is quickly becoming a priority.

It's time to refresh your bench.

Technology executives have been so enmeshed in cost cutting for the last four years that they may be ignoring what really makes their businesses tick—people.

Keeping your most able employees, the individuals who can really give a company a leg up, is rapidly becoming a top priority as technology budgets increase by an average of 7% in 2005, according to Forrester Research projections.

A Society of Information Management survey shows that "retaining I.T. professionals" is the No. 2 concern of technology executives, finishing right behind No. 1 "business alignment."

That's a sea change considering that between March 2001 and April 2004, 403,000 information management jobs were shed, bringing the total number of technology workers in the nation to 1.74 million, according to a University of Illinois study released last month.

Impossible to quantify is whether technology staffs are stretched too thin. There are no direct measures that work across all firms. "That's a microeconomic decision that changes from company to company," says Virendra Singh, an economist at West Chester, Pa.-based research firm Economy.com.

An indirect measurement is the level of service a technology staff can provide employees or customers. Service levels decline when staffs are stretched. But unless that is causing real friction—or sales losses—it gets tough to make the case for more workers, says Paul Fritterer, vice president of information technology at Ingersoll-Rand's security and safety division.

That intensifies the imperative to retain your workers.

"People have an impact on your infrastructure," Fritterer says. "Systems need human intervention. If you cut more people, you have fewer people to serve as backups. You lose a broader level of support. It becomes a problem if a system goes down and the recovery takes a lot of time."

The trick: Watch for any signs of creaking service or operations. Document them and make your case for more help. You don't want the proof through a disaster, such as a key shipping or accounts receivable system going down. Failure to respond to such an outage could cost your company millions in sales, Fritterer points out.

Yvonne Cook, chief information officer at mortgage brokerage company American Business Financial Services, says retaining current employees and hiring new ones is crucial to her plans for 2005. Retention saves time and money on training, and salary, Cook says.

ABFS is willing to invest in new information systems and people, a contrast from 18 months ago when the company was "hunkered down" before mortgage applications and refinancing boomed. The catch? Cook needs to hire more people to support existing architecture and build systems that cut down the paperwork that flows between ABFS and mortgage brokers. She's planning to build a system that could more efficiently get mortgage documents from local and county governments.

"We need to increase staff, and it's hard finding the right people," Cook explains. "With all the talk of outsourcing jobs, you have to wonder where everyone went."

This article was originally published on 2004-10-01
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