Tough times squeeze career aspirations

Tough times not only put the squeeze on IT budgets, they can put your career aspirations at risk.

IT managers assessing their career directions and their potential for career growth in this current economic climate will find justifying IT expenditure, delivering faster ROI and aligning IT to business needs critical issues.

Recruitment specialists claim IT managers constantly find themselves struggling to justify IT expenditure and deliver return on investment faster due to a commonly perceived misalignment between IT and the rest of the business.

Recruiters say IT managers looking to maximise long-term employability face additional pressure in a tough climate to stay abreast of technologies and their use to keep their company ahead of the industry in which it operates.

Amanda Miles, national marketing and communication manager at IT recruiter Icon, said the IT industry is cautious at the moment.

"It comes down to the traditional way companies position IT, which is isolated from the rest of the business. An IT manager needs to integrate IT into business requirements by understanding the business direction and providing technology solutions to assist the company to grow a better bottom line," she said.

"From an IT manager's point of view, the more you justify what IT does, and deliver projects that produce ROI, the stronger your position is in the long term.

"Pre-1990, the IT manager was very technically oriented and managed technology. Today, they are required to sit on an executive board, build good relationships within the business and with the business unit manager and have the ability to communicate effectively back to IT team members," Miles said.

Ross Greenwood, managing director at IT recruiter Woodbine Associates, agreed there is a high level of caution now amongst IT managers, adding there is little scope for moving to roles such as general manager.

"Within every large company, IT is a silo. There is little opportunity to move out of the top of the IT silo to, say, a general manager or operational manager role. If you are managing IT, it is considered you are there to stay," he said.

"In practical terms, there is not much that an IT manager can do to make the transition, though there are a few famous exceptions to the rule. However, most are trapped in IT. The logical step out of IT is to consulting roles assisting other IT managers.

"The IT manager generally stays in IT. It really doesn't matter how many qualifications you have, even if you had an MBA, because business line managers come from a different stream," Greenwood said.

However, Miles disagreed that IT managers are virtually locked into that role. IT managers can move across to general manager roles, by the dual nature of the role they play within the organisation. An IT manager has to focus on understanding the business sector of the company as well as information technology, she said.

"IT managers can move to general manager roles. In order to do this, they need to absolutely understand business and use technology that gives the company the best ROI. A person with both technical skills and managerial skills is valuable and very powerful within an organisation," she said.

"IT managers need to hone their business skills," she said, and pass them on to employees. "Once that occurs, an IT manager has a number of skills that runs across both IT and business, and that is valuable to the company."

Devoting time after hours to extracurricular activities is also recommended for those concerned about their career direction.

Miles recommends after-hours career coaching as "a one-on-one approach to understanding what you are good at, what you want to be good at and how to manage yourself from the current role to the new situation". This could mean switching jobs to another company or taking further training.

Greenwood also recommends IT managers devote their own time to familiarising themselves with new technology developments that may or may not have immediate relevance to the business.

Both recruiters agree networking is important. An IT manager concerned about their career prospects should attend industry seminars, business sessions, breakfast meetings and evening user conferences to mix with their peers.

However, both agreed IT managers are staying put within companies, and keeping their heads down until the climate changes.

"Technology is a moving target," Miles said. "I think we are feeling quite burnt from the [fallout of the tech wreck] and the current economic climate. It's a matter of battening down the hatches and keeping focused on the business and technology objectives, looking at where you can implement initiatives that streamline activities and increase productivity. All with a faster and leaner IT department. But we will ride this out," Miles said.

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