IT execs search far and wide for financial skills

Wanted: IT talent with a nose for business

Over the past few years, many corporate IT organizations have worked hard to better align themselves with the businesses they support by acting more like them.

For example, some have created IT catalogues listing the services available to business divisions, while others have created project management offices to help deliver projects on time and on budget.

But as IT strives to improve its business acumen, managers are finding it difficult to develop or recruit enough people with a strong mix of financial and technical skills.

"We have a position we're trying to fill -- a post that manages supplier compliance -- and we can't find those skills in-house," said Jeff Cooper, vice president of client services and technical relationship management at The Walt Disney Co.

"It's tougher finding someone who understands the financial side of IT" than it is to recruit someone with highly desirable technical skills, he added.

In search of versatility

Cooper was one of several executives at the IT Financial Management Week conference in Orlando this week who bemoaned the dearth of professionals with IT and financial know-how.

The event is run by the International Quality & Productivity Center in New York.

"If I could wave my magic wand [over our IT organization], it would be to solve my financial acumen" skills shortage, said Robert Shanahan, executive IT director at the Nebraska Department of Labor.

Barry Carter, CIO at Alliance Data Systems in Dallas, said he stresses the importance of learning ITIL service management best practices, customer relationship management and related skills to his IT staff. Carter also helped create a two-day IT financial management course for internal IT staffers.

"One approach that works for us is to show how financial people think," Carter said.

Still, financial skills development sometimes requires creative management thinking.

For instance, Tokyo Electron Ltd. has helped develop 10 IT managers by encouraging them to take business leaders out to eat, said Russ Finney, U.S. CIO. The 10 managers now act as the primary IT contacts for the company's 25 worldwide operating units, Finney said. While providing an entertainment fund for the meals doesn't necessarily foster financial management skills, bringing together IT and business people "has given us better insights into our customers," said Finney.

Under the leadership of CIO Tony Scott, Disney has been training its IT staffers increasingly in disciplines such as ITIL, process delivery and service management, said Cooper.

Eastern Mountain Sports CIO Jeff Neville is focusing this year on developing staffers with portfolio analysis skills. The U.S.-based outfitter wants an IT staff that "not only looks at technology but can change [business] processes," he said.

Because of its rural location, EMS has had trouble attracting people with the right IT and financial skills, he said.

Internally, Neville said, "I've had success culling people from other parts of the organization outside IT and less success in [grooming] people from areas like the IT maintenance organization into these roles."

Amerisure Mutual Insurance's Ed Cullari looks for people with a specific mix of skills for the project management office he directs in Michigan, U.S.

"I want someone with a consulting background who can speak to C-level executives," said Cullari. "You have to be part salesman, part project manager and part baby sitter."

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