IT Careers 2020: Cloudy days ahead

Welcome to the IT organisation 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. 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.

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Welcome to the IT organisation 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. 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 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 St. Louis-based 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. "You need to get skilled in emerging technologies and develop a deep technical skill set," says Mark O'Gara, vice president of infrastructure at Highmark, a health insurer in Harrisburg, Pa.

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."

Cummins, a worldwide supplier of diesel engines, is in the process of completing a major restructuring of IT. CIO Bruce Carver estimates that in the end, "only about 5% of IT roles will be purely IT, and these roles will be few and far between."

Cummins' centralised IT department is 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 - and architect is fast becoming the hottest role in IT.

Another services and support group is made up of third-party service providers and a limited number of Cummins employees. All other employees are business specialists in what Cummins calls "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, vice president 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.

As futurist and Computerworld columnist Thornton A. May sees it, this is where the upwardly mobile career action is, as well as the greatest coolness factor.

"IT's future revolves along three interrelated dimensions," May says, all of which converge in this IT career track. Those dimensions are innovation, which he defines 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. "Each of these critical disciplines promises good future career opportunities," May says.

Regarding educational degrees, May anticipates a new breed of sheepskin, one that reflects both business knowledge and statistical analysis expertise.

Business specialists will play a leading role in various business functions, performing work that today can often only be performed in IT, says Tim Ferrarell, CIO at Chicago-based industrial distributor W.W. Grainger Inc.

In 2020, "technology will be easier to use. Therefore, it will be more prevalent in other parts of the business and not just the purview of IT," says Ferrarell. "We're more and more attracting and rotating people through business and IT functions so people understand how technology can be used to serve customers better. It's about having employees who are versatile and who know various technologies and business processes. It makes us more flexible and reduces risks. Rotation creates versatility."

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