IT Careers 2020: Cloudy days ahead

Welcome to the IT organiaation of the year 2020 and brace yourself, because it’s a far cry from the department you find yourself in today. Computer programmers have gone the way of the typing pool and so have one-dimensional technology specialists like network engineers. Deeply technical professionals with multiple certifications in virtualisation, networking and security technologies work primarily as component engineers and IT architects. Job titles include cloud architect, cloud capacity planner, cloud infrastructure administrator and integration architect.


The people who work in these new roles design and maintain the underlying framework or architecture. On top of this architecture sits a shifting inventory of cloud services, plug-and-play Web-based applications and easy-to-use proprietary software components that together represent the key source of a company’s competitive advantage.

How these various components will be innovatively mixed and matched will largely be decided by marketing, supply chain and other business functions and divisions that will be guided by a second tier of IT professionals: super-IT-savvy business experts who reside in the business.

They don’t build software, but they work with the business to invent new products and services. They also assemble the software components needed to bring those offerings to market. They have titles like business systems analyst and business solutions consultant.

Sound far-fetched? It’s only 2010, but already, the savviest companies are well along the path of implementing this kind of two-tiered IT workforce structure.

“2020 is already here,” says Ian Patterson, CIO at Scottrade. There, the IT organisation includes project managers and business analysts with deep analytical and communication skills, and technical architects, who make sure “we don’t step on ourselves by doing something that will negatively impact the business from a technology standpoint,” Patterson says. Going forward, CIOs and IT employment experts predict that this bifurcation of IT roles will vastly accelerate, with most professionals falling into one of two major categories: technical specialists and business specialists.

Tier 1: Tech Specialists
Technical specialists are the people who work in a centralised IT or business services organisation. If you want to work here, you need to know about data standards, information standards, virtualisation, networks, mobile technology and IT architecture, among other things. In other words, you need to get skilled in emerging technologies and develop a deep technical skill set.

Overall, this organisation will have far fewer people than today’s IT department, but these workers will have an extremely rich set of technical skills and they will understand precisely how their business makes and loses money and how all transactions flow through the enterprise.

This is where the enterprise’s overall business process and technology architecture will be maintained. The infrastructure will be made up of multiple services furnished by a variety of outside suppliers, coupled with software components that were designed both externally and in-house and that are extremely intuitive and easy for various business functions to assemble and use competitively.

As business units put together these applications, “the critical role the IT department will play is ensuring that business value is not lost through fragmentation,” says Andrew Morlet, global director of the strategy and transformation practice at IT consultancy Accenture. “IT will play a central coordinating role that protects the interests of the entire enterprise over the divisions themselves.”

New centralised IT departments are staffed by technical experts charged with creating standards and structure and managing the overall cost of the IT function. This is the home of the IT architecture group, fast becoming the hottest role in IT. Services and support groups are made up of third-party service providers and a limited number of employees, with all other employees acting as business specialists in business-facing roles.

All indications are that by 2020, a big chunk of technical specialists’ work will involve integrating a broader array of technologies and services into the overall enterprise infrastructure, CIOs say. That’s why a broader set of networking, software, virtualisation and other skills will be required. This trend hasn’t been lost on vendors like EMC, which is developing a cloud certification to complement its storage certification.

Additionally, EMC is working with its security division, RSA, and virtualisation vendor VMware to develop multidisciplinary certifications for technical specialists, says Tom Clancy, VP of education services and productivity at EMC.

Tier 2: Business Specialists
The work of business specialists is matching the right IT tool to the business need at hand. These are super-IT-savvy business experts who understand how the business works, how transactions flow, what makes and loses money for the company, and where and how technology can help or hinder the business. This is where the upwardly mobile career action is, as well as the greatest coolness factor.

IT’s future revolves along three interrelated dimensions, all of which converge in this IT career track. Those dimensions are innovation, which defined as the ability to convert ideas into money; business analytics, which involves operations research, data mining, data integration, reporting and statistics; and risk management, which requires a keen knowledge of business processes.

This is one of the best areas to look for work if your job is being automated or outsourced, as each of these critical disciplines promises good future career opportunities.

And business specialists will play a leading role in various business functions, performing work that today can often only be performed in IT. That’s because, in 2020, technology will be easier to use, so will be more prevalent in other parts of the business and not just the purview of IT. It’s about having employees who are versatile and who know various technologies and business processes, which makes the organisation more flexible and reduces risks.

In short, rotation creates versatility.

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