With the start of another year, many IT professionals are completing their training plans. While most budgets have been set, there are still decisions to be made about the specific training to undertake. You may be evaluating a variety of technical training courses or industry certification options. While these have value, my recommendation is to add a trip to the IT SPA to your training for 2006."IT SPA" is my acronym for three skills that are critical in the IT world - straddling, planning and analysis.In the past, technical skills and industry certifications were primary factors for career advancement in IT. The current focus on utility computing, outsourcing and offshoring, however, has begun to diminish the emphasis on engineering, programming and operations skills, which many organizations consider to be commodity items that vendors can provide. The value of IT comes from its overall business value rather than its technical value. Because of this, internal IT departments are becoming more business-facing and customer-focused than ever before. Skills such as relationship management (straddling), project management (planning) and business analysis (analysis) are fast becoming the basis for both job security and career advancement.A variety of third-party vendors can run your data center and IT operations, but relationship management is an internal skill all IT departments need. Relationship managers meet with users and understand their business needs intimately. They work within the IT organization as a customer advocate, and concurrently work within the business to communicate the value of IT. With one foot in the business and the other in technology, they straddle the gap between the customer and IT.Network and systems engineering also can be outsourced to third parties, but project management is needed in-house. Project managers ensure that IT projects and initiatives are completed on schedule, stay within budget and meet stated requirements. Knowledge of a company's financial budgeting, management and reporting processes are crucial to this role, along with an overall knowledge of team building, resource management, work scheduling and risk management. If relationship managers are the voice of the customer, the project manager is the voice of the business, ensuring that fiscal, timeline and functionality requirements are met.Application development can be offshored, but in-house business-analysis skills are critical in making sure the applications perform as needed. Business analysts focus on business requirements. They meet with process owners to document requirements, translate the requirements into specifications the application development groups need and work with development teams to ensure the applications provide the needed functionality. They are the liaison between business process owners and application developers, ensuring that usable and productive applications are developed.Just as a trip to a real spa is meant to invigorate the body, mind and spirit, a dive into the IT SPA can invigorate your career and provide bigger challenges, bigger rewards and hopefully bigger paychecks. Take time to visit it in 2006.