• United States

Critical IT skills to keep in-house

Apr 19, 20064 mins

* Keeping the IT crown-jewels in-house

Two recent Computerworld articles touched on IT career strategies as offshoring continues to grow. Eric Lai covered a recent report that identified business skills as an important differentiator in IT recruiting (“Study: You can lower the odds of being outsourced”) and Robert L. Mitchell discussed IT careers and offshoring in his blog titled “How not to get ‘offshored'”. This is a topic I discussed last August – see “IT career survival in the face of offshoring”. Following this recent coverage, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the subject.

Both Computerworld articles point to a study by the Society for Information Management (SIM). Three of the key findings from the report regarding the top 10 skills to keep in-house are:

* Business skills and capabilities represent five of the top 10 skills respondents identified as critical to keep in-house in 2005.

* Project management skills, such as project planning, leadership and risk management were also found in the top 10 skills to keep in-house in 2005.

* The remaining two skills found in the top 10 are systems analysis and design, both technical but client-facing.

These findings are completely in line with my experience and support the advice I gave last August. As technology has become a larger part of business processes, business skills help technical people perform better and technical skills make business people more effective. If you are not adding business skills to your skill set, you are setting yourself up to be left behind when your job gets offshored. In addition to business skills, I focused on project management and analysis and design skills as skill sets that will be kept in-house. My reasoning was and is that positions that perform project management, leadership, analysis and design require interaction with business people from your organization or with clients. That interaction is very important to the process and requires good language skills and cultural affinity to be performed effectively. Very hard to offshore successfully.

The study also found that the most likely skill sets to be sent offshore were testing and telecommunications, with an expected increase in larger organizations, sending programming offshore. The rub is that often these are the entry-level skills into technical career paths. As businesses offshore the traditional technical entry-level positions, where will the resources come from to fill the positions that firms desire to keep in-house? This study and others have identified the declining numbers of new students in IT related programs. Young people are not going to line up to be trained for positions that are at risk to be sent offshore. This becomes a longer-term strategic question and not just a topic for individual career planning.

Smart businesses will ensure that an entry-level career path exists domestically, even as they offshore significant amounts of their workload. This will be necessary in order to train domestic resources that will be ready to step into the project manager, product manager, architect, and other roles that firms expect to keep in-house. Without such plans, there will be a growing shortage of local resources with the right experience, business and technical skills and the cultural background to be effective.

A similar effect is already in play with mainframe resources. As Intel-based servers, object-oriented programming and Web-based services became the place to be in the technical world, mainframe systems were left mostly to the older IT workforce. As these folks are now reaching retirement age, there is a limited workforce of experienced and trained staff to take their place. Market forces made the newer systems and technologies more attractive. That tide is turning as business will have to address replacement resources to run the mainframe systems that are still the mainstay for many functions in many industries. Without a plan to provide an entry level career path for domestic IT resources with the technical skill sets companies wish to keep in-house, businesses will be facing a similar resource shortage in the next decade.