Changing Skills for IT Professionals
by Stephen W. Lawson & Roberta J. Fox
IT Skills and Expectations Changing as Technology Evolves
During the past thirty plus years, IT organizations were composed of professionals who were siloed in their knowledge, skills, expertise and experience in applications, systems, networks, telecom, security, operations practices, etc. It was very rare that you could find, let alone hire, people that were capable of working in more than one technology discipline.
As telecom and data technologies converged through the development of VoIP solutions, these two technology areas were 'smashed' together, and many of us learned that the structure and approach to designing routing tables in routers was the same as routing tables for voice calls in PBXs. What a surprise that was!
Then came network based applications such as email. Then came unified messaging where you could take voice mails from the phone system and send them to people via email, albeit in two different in boxes.
Technologies continued to evolve with the industry developing solutions that could bring technologies together, but somehow the industry kept forgetting about the human capital. How were technology professionals supposed to learn and keep up with these changes and learn the vocabulary, programs and systems differences? (this challenge applied to professionals on both the vendor and client side by the way).
Since there has been, and will continue to be, a shortage of highly skilled, well trained, network professionals, companies find themselves between a rock and a hard place. If they train their staff to the level required to support their increasingly complex converged environments, they generally lose them to a higher paying job, or a job with a more attractive location, within 18 months.
If the company forgoes the training, then their staff will leave anyway to gain that training elsewhere, or, if they stay, they will quickly become less and less capable of supporting their ever-evolving converged environment.
As a side point, it takes approximately 1000 hours of experience and about $40,000 per person to cross-train between the various disciplines. Meanwhile, due to the economy, most companies we deal with have cut their training and conference budgets to next to zero!
Impact of Cloud trends on IT Professionals
Parallel to the technology convergence described above, we are all now faced with dealing with the industry pushing us all to move to 'The Cloud', as a way not to have to deal with the technology! They say leave it to them!
They tell us that this will make it much easier for staffing and support. The responsibility of keeping up to date in skills will be transferred to them, (and less expensive to maintain). The customers technical skills are replaced with a less transferable, but very valuable, skill of understanding the company’s unique business processes/ methodologies and how existing and newly available technologies could benefit the business by supporting those processes/ methodologies or, (better yet), improving them.
This in no way infers that IT staff no longer require a sound bases of technical knowledge, just that companies, (especially, but not exclusively, SMBs), can no longer afford the luxury of their own in-house highly skilled and trained technical work-force.
Future Skills and Expertise Required is Changing
Real, sustainable, value of an internal IT team, in the future, will not be in their deep technology knowledge, but in how well they understand how the business runs today, how well they can manage their various service providers that deliver and support technologies required by the company, and their ability to recognize inherent business benefits of new technologies as they become available.
This is quite different from the ‘bit-head’ profile of a typical IT, systems, telecom and network professionals in the past. This shift comes with a key side-benefit… breaking the expensive and business disruptive hire/train/lose, hire/train/lose cycle of a highly skilled IT work force.
New Skills and Training Required - Customers and Vendors
As stated above, there will be a different skill set required in the converged/cloud environments. From our research at FOX GROUP most of the vendors are not able to define, let alone provide, designs and pricing for the piece parts of the total solutions required for these cross-technology environments. They expect the clients to be able to 'put it all together'.
From our analysis and early adopter UC projects, the new skills sets required are:
Good understanding of all of the technology puzzle pieces, how they are interdependent and fit together
Ability to drill down in all of the pieces to understand and de-mystify the real world of functions and capabilities proposed
Ability to quickly research, analyze and recommend vendors, based on their business strengths, weaknesses and abilities beyond what is included in the RFP response
Ability to analyze complex financial proposals that now include complex hardware, software, professional services initial costs, as well as the more challenging license renewal impacts over the life of the contract (lots of hidden surprises here!)
Ability to work with internal procurement and legal professionals to help lead vendor negotiations for the technology vendor contracts
Lastly, and probably the most important....ability to run complex multi-technology projects and programs involving a significant number of external IT professionals, with minimal internal IT resources.
Post-Install Skills Required in the new IT world
Just when you thought you were done, since things were implemented successfully....along comes the day two world. Now the real challenges begin!
Vendor management, multi-module, multi-level communications, project management, ability to manage SLAs, contracts and vendor technical/service performance management are just some of the new areas IT professionals have to work with.
In this new world, most of the cloud vendors HAVE NOT provided proper service level agreements and support processes, let alone dispute/performance measurement capabilities. This puts the onus on the client to do this!
We will provide further commentary in next month's Part Two article on Changing IT skills.
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