Today's IT professionals are an evolving breed. The job keeps morphing as companies demand not just technical know-how, but more business acumen, analytical skills and industry knowledge as well.
Kudos if you've pulled that all together, but don't rest just yet. The evolution isn't over, as the upcoming year promises more changes. If you want to stay in the driver's seat of your own career, put these items on your to-do list:
1. Incorporate security into your responsibilities. Security and related disciplines, such as business continuity and disaster-recovery planning, are permeating all levels of the organization. That means all IT workers, and not just the security folks, will have to contribute by understanding how business processes, technical requirements and security intersect.
"Everyone has to understand security to a certain degree and apply it to their responsibilities," says Sam Helmich, vice president of technology at ADM Investor Services in Chicago. The learning requirements vary by IT positions, but Helmich recommends that you seek out security classes and certification. Finding mentors from the security team is another good way to prepare
2. Re-engineer processes. IT has always been responsible for keeping everything running and developing new systems, says Michael Cummins, CIO at the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Management and a clinical professor of management, but now he sees a new responsibility emerging: re-engineering business processes and workflow.
"We've seen movement to business processes and workflow analysis as you try to show how systems can help re-engineer how you do the work and make it more efficient," Cummins says. "That's where we see all these big productivity gains."
To deliver this, you must understand how your business-side colleagues actually do their jobs, he says. You can start by signing up as a project lead, finding a business-side mentor or working as a systems analyst.
3. Use analytics to guide business decisions. "We're seeing more and more companies that are stellar examples of using data analysis to run their business," Cummins says. Casinos, for example, collect and analyze detailed data on individual players and then tailor their marketing based on those findings. Other industries are following suit, which means you'll have to set up the systems and understand what data to mine and analyze.
To brush up on analytics get onto projects that expose you to the needs and goals driving non-IT departments, study vendor information on how business intelligence applications can provide data to drive decisions, and get training in Six Sigma, a data-driven methodology for eliminating defects.
4. Be more versatile. There will always be a need for deep technical skills , but you'll be obsolete if all you can offer is one particular expertise, says Pamela Taylor, a solutions architect at a subsidiary of a Fortune 50 company and vice president of SHARE, an IBM user group.
"Keep yourself open to new approaches," Taylor says. "While there is some need for specialization and to demonstrate an expertise for the particular role you're in now, you must keep yourself aware of and consistently educated in new things that are emerging."
5. Work on multifunctional programs and multidisciplinary teams. Companies are putting together more teams of workers from diverse departments to deliver technology-related projects, says Diane Morello, an analyst at Gartner. Getting assigned to those teams is a key to getting broad business knowledge and becoming known outside IT.
"Individuals are going to work much more consistently around multidisciplinary teams, and that means their competencies need to be understood and known by people outside their skill sets," Morello says.
In short, you must be skilled in teamwork, effective communication and change management. Try to work for managers who operate across business units. Or, if you can, get assigned to a boundary-spanning role, and seek some relief from daily operational duties so you can focus on the big picture.
6. Beef up your business skills. The need to do this has been building for a while, but 2008 will put an even greater emphasis on business acumen, says Kate M. Kaiser, an associate professor of IT at Marquette University and coordinator of the Society for Information Management study "The Information Technology Workforce: Trends and Implications 2005-2008."