Gartner: Age, attitude matter in IT

Youth has always played a role in IT. It is part of the culture, epitomized by people like Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates, who were both young when their companies were formed.

And the message coming from Gartner analysts Monday is that youth matters more than ever in IT, especially as the Web becomes more interactive and collaborative and heads in directions that Baby Boomer-aged IT managers may be ill equipped to lead.

For sure, said Gartner analysts at the start of ITxpo, the recognition by CEOs of IT's strategic importance is moving senior IT managers close to the top of the corporate ladder. At the same time, career opportunities built on the CEO's recognition of IT's importance to business survival is also moving more CIOs closer to the door.

"The number of CIOs leaving their jobs doubled this year -- that's right it doubled," Gartner CEO Gene Hall said at the start of his firm's conference, which runs through Friday. "Why? Many CEOs believe that their CIO is cost-focused and not capable of contributing to growth -- and they need IT to contribute to growth."

Gartner analysts told the 6,000-plus attendees that companies poised for future growth will be clued into the so-called consumerization of IT, a catch-all term covering the mobile, customizable and heavily interactive technologies those in their 20s now seem to expect.

Contrast that to senior IT managers, who are likely a "middle aged, sedan-driving, middle income, middle class, middle-of-the-road, midlife-crisis, mid-sized managers from the Midwest, who carry a little bit too much weight around their middles," said Mark Raskino, a Gartner analyst. The crowd laughed.

And if being called overweight so soon after breakfast wasn't bad enough, Raskino urged the boomers on hand to plan for their exit. "Plan for succession -- what you need to find, what you need to nurture is fresh talent -- and that talent will be multiskilled, multidisciplined ... and it will take on new roles."

Raskino said Gartner is dubbing this next generation of IT professionals "versatilists."

It's entirely possible that Raskino could have portrayed baby boomer IT managers not as overweight and rusty but, like Star Trek's Jean-Luc Picard , capable of adapting to the next challenge. Instead, what Gartner sees is that when it comes to new technologies and new means of collaboration, many older IT workers don't understand newer technologies and need help.

Terry Epp, senior development manager at the Bank of Montreal, agreed with Gartner analysts about the consumerization of IT and said it's prevalent in financial services with online banking and trading.

But Epp said he wasn't as sure about Gartner's take on age. He agreed that there is a need to tap into the "up and coming demographic" to discover where a company should be heading. But Epp said companies also need to understand the people who aren't using these services, "and I'm not sure that young people will be able to tell us that."

At a session on IT infrastructure, Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman drove home the point a little more.

"This is not just about technology, first and foremost, it's about culture -- it's about cultural change," said Bittman, adding that "although this is probably discriminatory, there is a different attitude, at different ages, based on what technology can provide."

The best way to understand what's going to happen, Bittman said, is to look at what your children and grandchildren are doing.

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