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Cautious growth

As IT hiring slowly increases, employers seek security, Web services, Linux and business skills.

By , Network World
February 16, 2004 12:09 AM ET

Network World - After two and a half years, James Barry is hiring again. To deal with new, stringent regulatory requirements in the financial sector, the CIO at OneUnited Bank in Boston has about $250,000 budgeted this year to increase his 15-person staff by two or three positions.

"We are adding an assistant vice president of information technology, an operations manager and a documentation specialist," Barry says. "The documentation specialist is the hot one. With all of the new and emerging regulatory requirements, we are finding that we need to spend more time putting pen to paper to describe the internal controls and safeguards that we have in place."

Analysts say issues such as increased regulatory scrutiny, coupled with IT budgets that are finally turning around, are resulting in a pick-up in IT hiring this year. But it will be slow, they say. In addition, while expertise in areas such as Windows and Cisco network administration continue to be in high demand, skills focusing on securityWeb services and Linux also are becoming hot. Analysts add that isolated technical expertise is no longer enough.

"The people who are the top performers and tend to provide the greatest value have a really unique perspective and a synthesis of a lot of different things, not just technical skills," says Diane Morello, a vice president and research director at Gartner. "They have an understanding of the business and the ability to anticipate what might happen if the business changes in a particular way."

It's a trend that's been going on for some time as IT becomes more closely aligned with business. But until this year, IT managers primarily have been reshuffling positions internally. Now some, such as Barry, plan to add positions.

Carlson Companies, a marketing, travel and hospitality conglomerate that employs about 190,000 people in 140 countries through its brands, including T.G.I. Friday's and Radisson Hotels & Resorts, did little IT hiring last year, mostly using contract workers to fill in where needed. So far this year, the firm has eight or 10 open positions for an IT staff of about 900, says Jana Bertheaume, director of recruitment at Carlson headquarters in Minneapolis. Most of those openings are new positions.

While Carlson seeks Java and .Net skills, Bertheaume says the company also is focused on hiring people who know more than technology.

"We're looking for that combination person. The individual who's got a technical background, but also has the business savvy," she says. "Business analyst, project managers, people who have project methodology."

For the first time in three years, analysts are predicting significant increases in IT budgets for 2004. IDC is the most optimistic, with an estimate of as high as 8% growth for the year. But analysts say that hiring increases, which usually lag budget upturns by about six months, aren't happening as quickly.

"It's a very different transition this time around, and what I think is different is that a lot of companies are offshoring," says David Foote, president and chief research officer at Foote Partners.

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