Posted by: Monideepa Tarafdar | December 14, 2009

So – you don’t want to do just technology any more?

Most IT professionals, especially those joining the workforce out of a technical (e.g. engineering or IT bachelors’) degree start out with technical job profiles. They do application development, database management, infrastructure management, network related hardware and software management, project management – for IT services companies, IT consulting (technical) or for IT departments of companies. The advantage of these roles is that they create a strong foundation for understanding the technology – invaluably so – since the IT function is after all a technology-based one.  However, they also tend to be narrow rather than broad in their scope and many IT professionals, typically after 6-8 years in these largely technology-focused jobs, want to diversify into IT-related, but broader and more high-impact roles from the business point of view. There are typically three options for those wanting to make the switch.

One, IT consulting. This means jobs in general management consulting firms such as Accenture/IBM/PWC or the consulting arms of the IT services companies such as Infosys or Wipro. An IT consultant is typically expected to “diagnose” a client company (its product-market space, industry etc.) and come up with a strategic plan specifying applications and systems the company needs. Required skills would include an understanding of strategic implications of various applications and technologies, IT-based business process management, IT-based process integration, and business opportunities from emerging IT. Consulting roles require technology analysis and forecasting, IT-based strategic planning, analysis of IT use patterns in a particular industry and analysis of competitors’ use of IT. They also require client facing activities such as business development and client development. If the consulting position is in an IT services company then typically the consultant would need to interface with the delivery functions and would have to analyze and  pitch IT hardware and software sourcing strategies to the client company, which means a good handle on factors that have a bearing on IT out-sourcing decisions is helpful.

Two, corporate IT – that is, a dual business-technology role in the IT department of a company. This role implies responsibilities for overseeing functions such as applications development/implementation, infrastructure management, and systems development. It is probably closest to the “technical” role, but there are important differences. First a solid understanding of the company’s products, processes, and markets is required for analyzing the utility of each application vis-a-vis strategic and operational benefits. Process knowledge is especially important in managing/leading the implementation of work-flow based applications such as enterprise resource systems. Understanding the culture/history/power structure of the company is invaluable for figuring out likely sources of support, resistance and resources in the context of IT projects. Empathy for functional managers and understanding of what they do is essential for managing their training and support needs. Vendor and technology sourcing skills are needed to take decisions such as which IT activities should be outsourced, to whom and under what kind of contracts. Indeed ever-increasing complexity in the technology together with uncertainty in the business environment has made contract management a very sought after skill in an IT professional. The corporate IT role is probably the most nuanced and complex of the three and is on-track for the CIO role. The CIO’s role itself is increasingly regarded as one of the most critical of the executive roles, especially in information intensive industries, and requires quite a range of business and technology skills. An appropriately balanced IT department professional (i.e knows the “hard” technology and the “softer” context of its implementation) who understands how IT should be aligned with the particular company, therefore has a  highly sought after and valuable skill-set.

Three, think tanks and corporate strategy/policy/planning departments in IT services companies. The IT services industry is turbulent and highly competitive, not least due to constant changes in technology.  Strategy roles in these companies would include market analysis, technology forecasting, technology-use forecasting, sector-wise IT-use analysis and forecasting. This role is probably the most removed from the technology role and requires understanding of strategy, technology management and evolution in the business use of IT. Professionals in this role are required to answer questions such as – Where is the market for a given technology heading? How are companies likely to use it? Where can we provide differentiation? What technologies should we look at in the medium term?

The strategic importance and operational necessity of IT notwithstanding, it is difficult to find managers who really understand IT, and IT professionals who really know the business and organizational import of a given application or system. “Technology”-oriented  IT professionals who want to switch to a more business-oriented job thus might do well to understand the roles where they can leverage their experience, and associated skill requirements.

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