Hiring Challenge: Finding Candidates that Fit to a T

The future of business demands more than just links between IT and business.

Today we hear about forces driving collaboration between business and IT, but the future of business demands more than just links between separate entities. The successful companies of the future will have truly aligned business and IT functions. Today’s successful chief information officer (CIO) is the embodiment of this duality. CIOs must be single-mindedly driven to use technology to make the business more successful.

Further, CIOs must have a leg in what today are frequently two separate (but increasingly aligned) worlds—the business world and the IT world—and they must be equally comfortable in both. In the future, CIOs will be at the nexus of the alignment of these two worlds.

However, for tomorrow’s executive to bridge the gap between IT and business, today’s IT managers must hone their skills to ensure they can address both sides of the table when making critical business decisions.

One of the most significant drivers for the propagation of leaders with a powerful combination of both technical and business skills is the explosive growth of the service oriented architecture (SOA) market. Realizing that SOA is a strategy that enables a company to make more effective business decisions while relying on its existing software and hardware, more hiring managers are looking to augment their team with professionals who are equally comfortable in the back room and the board room.

While SOA is one of the power tools that CIOs are using with greater frequency to help drive this business/IT alignment, the challenge remains in preparing the next generation with these much-needed skills. Business leaders need more than the portfolio of services and a platform on which to compose them; they need skills to assimilate information about changing marketplace conditions and respond by using this information to configure and improve business processes rapidly and smoothly.

The opportunities are seemingly limitless for the highly skilled IT/business professional, especially considering that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2014 the IT industry will create almost one million new jobs. Other studies show technology workers themselves worry their lack of business skills is holding them back in areas such as budget management, strategy, and business savvy. Gartner Group reports that 6 of 10 people affiliated with IT will assume business-facing roles by 2010. Clearly, the most coveted jobs will go to those candidates possessing a deep understanding of both IT and business.

What specific skills are required? How does one obtain them? Will the educational investments of today pay off tomorrow?

T-shaped People: Skills for the Future of Business

While business moves at an evolutionary pace, sometimes the skills needed to compete effectively shift more abruptly. Such is the case with the alignment of business and IT. In the past—and, to a great degree, the present—the work­force is dominated by two kinds of people: 1) business generalists with broad horizontal understanding of the business issues affecting their area, and 2) hands-on implementation specialists, or people with narrow but deep expertise in a specific, often technical, area.

The future of business demands a new breed of knowledge worker: the T-shaped person who combines broad understanding of business processes (the top, horizontal part of the T) with deep practical execution in a specific functional area (the bottom, vertical part of the T). People who share the same understanding of the business process (top of the T) can team with colleagues with different I-shaped specialties (the vertical part of the T) to address a business need without losing that common vocabulary and understanding of their shared business objective.

T-shaped skills can be built in a number of ways: take existing narrow but deep specialists and teach them broader business language, take generalists and teach them deeper specialized skills, or build T-shaped skills organically through educational institutions.

While the first two examples are largely a company-by-company reeducation initiative, the third involves a more comprehensive approach. Today, our universities are shifting their curricula in recognition of the changing demands of the business world. New disciplines such as services science are springing up to fill these needs. Services science is about applying scientific, management, and engineering principles to the delivery of services. The service sector lends itself well to virtual value chains and the concepts discussed above. As the service sector grows at the expense of the manufacturing and industrial sectors, T-shaped skills built by disciplines such as service science will be in growing demand.

Still, to obtain these much needed skills requires the T-shaped professional to strike a balance between on-the-job learning gained by experienced colleagues throughout the organization as well as supplementing professional experience with traditional classroom lessons. This is not to say that T-shaped skills require night school and credit-bearing courses. Rather, it’s to acknowledge that the higher education curricula is shifting to accommodate the growing IT needs of today’s business professional. To this end, many colleges and universities are offering mini-courses, or “boot camps,” either on campus or onsite at the company’s offices.

Taking education to a completely new level, some organizations are also embracing serious gaming to illustrate the intersection of business and IT. The use of an interactive, 3-D educational game simulator has emerged as a successful method to retrain or develop new skills. Together, users can literally see how their business processes impact every aspect of their business and have the added benefit of viewing outcomes through ‘what-if’ scenarios before they are carried out in the real world. Further, some organizations are taking advantage of online learning via Second Life.

As SOA continues to take center stage in organizations of every size, the demand for professionals with T-shaped skills will be required of any IT/business professional that aims to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity that exists today and will sustain far into the future.