• United States
by Elliot Kass

Career paths

Feb 02, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

IT pros should view offshoring as an opportunity to shift gears, rather than a threat.

The most vociferous objections to offshore outsourcing  come from developers and other IT professionals who feel that their jobs are threatened. What they might not realize is the extent to which they can mitigate the effect by taking advantage of the new career paths that globalization is creating.

“What U.S. industry needs more than programmers are IT people that understand business processes and can translate these processes into technical requirements,” says Michael Doane, an analyst with Meta Group. IT professionals based in the U.S. can play the decisive role in any offshore development project, he says, “by positioning themselves as the intermediary between the client, the onshore and the offshore resource.”

Global outsourcing “is a great opportunity for people in project-management roles,” says Keane consultant James Brewer. “They are in the driver’s seat.”

With an offshore development project, Brewer says, the project manager controls the communications and the exchange of software. “This puts them in a great position to add value to their companies and their careers,” he says.

But to remain competitive, IT pros can’t rely on technical expertise alone. “They must be expert in the business practices of a particular industry in order to help their clients get the most out of their business processes,” Doane says.

Such sentiments echo the way Kim Ross, CIO of Nielsen Media Research, organizes his project development work teams. Typically, there are three components to the team’s structure: onshore and offshore developers, who work for third parties, and a Nielsen anchor team that oversees the project and ensures quality control, Ross says.

Members of the anchor team “must be able to translate business needs into IT requirements,” he says. “They are responsible for ensuring that the specifications are correct and reflect the business objectives, and for maintaining accountability and confirming that the end product is of suitable quality.”

Are you ready?

Global sourcing creates a need for new skill sets. Here’s what this new role will require of you:
Industry expertise Generic knowledge is out. You’ll need to be expert in the business practices of a particular industry.
Project management know-how With IT resources scattered near and far, this will be the glue that holds it all together.
Business process knowledge U.S. industry needs people that can translate these processes into technical requirements.
Communications savvy You’ll need to keep everyone on the same page. But remember: Not everyone will be speaking the same language
People skills The byword here is flexibility. You’ll need to coordinate the work of people with assorted skill sets from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Technical mastery Don’t forget about your technical proficiency. It’s the foundation for everything else that you do.

Offshore outsourcing “represents a new career path, but also a challenge for IT professionals to keep their skills current,” says Thomas Kochan, a management professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In this new phase of the profession, those involved in IT will need project leader and quasi-management skills in addition to deep technical skills and will be under pressure to move into these new roles quickly.”

But Kochan also warns that the responsibility for making this transition cannot be foisted solely onto individual professionals. If it is, the U.S. could face a serious skill drain over the next five to 10 years. For the U.S. to maintain its skill base, “industry leaders and professionals, professional associations and academic centers must all work together,” he says, to devise ways of nurturing the profession.

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