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Future Stock

Identifying the key IS roles of the future is easy. Filling them -- now, that's the trickReader ROI Read this story to learn - The key IS skill sets for the next decade - How to assess future business needs against current IS skills Remember Captain Marvel? Whenever young Billy Batson uttered the magic word shazam, he was transformed into a hero with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules and the stamina of Atlas, among others. The ultimate composite crime fighter, Captain Marvel was invulnerable to any foe. What does this have to do with CIOs? Well, as time goes on, you're going to wish you had super powers. The IS organisation of the future looks a lot like Captain Marvel. IS in the post-Y2K world will be required to excel in a variety of new roles -- to anticipate (not just react to) business change, manage multiple technologies and tasks and work ever more closely with business partners. Dedicated systems integrators, network trouble-shooters and applications developers are important, but CIOs will need multifaceted staffers who incorporate the perspective of a psychologist, the creativity of an architect and the agility of an athlete.

Unfortunately, there are no magic words to summon this ultimate composite IS hero. CIOs must fill these new roles the hard way, either by developing or recruiting staff. Whatever the choice -- build or buy -- competition for people to fill these new roles will be fierce, and you must begin to visualise the IS organisation of tomorrow by taking stock of skill levels and gaps today. CIO spoke to analysts who are envisioning this brave new world and CIOs who already inhabit it for their perspectives on who'll be working for you in five years.

New Rules,New Roles

It doesn't take a Nostradamus to predict that over the next three to five years, businesses will expand their global reach. Information technology -- already critical to core business processes -- will be deployed and managed less by corporate IT organisations and more by individual business units. In this new environment, GartnerGroup (US) predicts a five-year evolution in the skills IS organisations will emphasise. Currently, IS departments spend 65 per cent of their recruiting efforts on finding folks with technical skills, while they spend 35 per cent of the time looking for business and IT management skills, says Diane Tunick Morello, research director focusing on business management in Gartner's IT Research Group. By 2003, those percentages will shift. At the same time, she says, 60 per cent of all companies will use an externally sourced workforce to do 50 per cent of all IT activity. So which role will IS play? The answer: all of them.

Analysts at Meta Group in the US have researched the strategic directions of several companies and brainstormed about what types of IS workers will be necessary to implement those strategies. "There will be no more 'your job is this'," says Toby Younis, vice president of Meta's Executive Council. "IS organisations will need fluidity, agility and creativity." Following is Meta's list of future IS roles. Not every IS worker will play each of these roles, but each IS organisation should offer the full cast: - The Engineer takes a systematic approach to problem analysis and resolution; - The Urban Planner builds an organic, scalable IT infrastructure around a sound IT strategy; - The Architect combines science and art to turn a foundation of corporate principles into an eye-pleasing IT organisation; - The Psychologist specialises in understanding the unique needs and bridging the communication gaps of divergent business cultures; - The Soccer Player responds to challenges within the flow of the game (as opposed to the American football player, who must stop and regroup after every play).

Forrester Research (US) has a similar take on the ensemble IS, predicting the rise of what it calls the "Catalytic IT Organisation", which avoids the "may I take your order" IT model in favour of a more proactive role, using IT as a catalyst to achieve tangible business results. Within these catalytic IT organisations, staffers will have detailed knowledge of the company's business; they'll do what's right for the whole firm (as opposed to what's right just for IS), and they'll gauge success with business-focused metrics. In this organisation, Forrester researchers identify four roles IS workers will play: - The Marine fills a leadership void, taking charge to solve crises or capitalise on opportunities; - The Inventor works behind the scenes to envision and craft new solutions to business opportunities; - The Ambassador bridges gaps between IT and business organisations, seeking consensus on critical and divisive issues; - The Professor has deep technical knowledge and experience and lends guidance to business managers wrestling with technology issues.

"I'm not sure this [mind-set] is something everyone is pursuing, but it should be a beacon for IT groups," says Ron Shevlin, Forrester's senior analyst in charge of leadership strategies. "There are still plenty of IT organisations that consider themselves service groups, but the truly successful IT groups [have moved] past the service mind-set." So should CIOs rush out and replace their networkers, database managers and ERP specialists with soldiers, teachers and diplomats? Not at all. The roles detailed above aren't so much skills as they are mind-sets -- new approaches to fulfilling the nontechnical demands placed on IS professionals when they venture out into the enterprise. To meet these demands, forward-thinking CIOs are already developing people proficient in three key skill sets that help prepare IS personnel to play these new roles: - Project management: the ability to apply a consistent, structured methodology to application development and system implementations With project management skills, IS staff can play the part of engineer or marine, as detailed above.

- Consulting skills: the soft stuff -- communication skills, relationship management, the ability to identify and meet users' needs. As an internal consultant, an IS professional can be the communicator and relationship manager needed to fill the psychologist and ambassador roles.

- Business acumen: knowledge not just of a specific business or industry but of the business language -- budgets, forecasts and financial statements (see just about any issue of CIO). IS staffers, like CIOs, must understand their core business before they can respond to business change a la the inventor or the soccer player.

The ROI

Of course, skills assessment, recruiting and training cost money -- which is easy to quantify -- but they deliver results that can be hard for some bean-counting executives to grasp. Still, CIOs who have introduced new roles to their IS organisations say the benefits are obvious. "It's a qualitative thing," says Joseph Castellano, president of network and corporate systems at Bell Atlantic, the telco giant whose IS staff began migrating to a consultative model in 1992. By decentralising IS, assigning staff to work in individual business units and bringing in "real" consultants to act as role models, Castellano and his co-president, Majid Naderkhani, have crafted a new IS organisation that Bell Atlantic executives now consider to be much faster and more responsive to changing business needs. As opposed to the IS organisation of the past, which worked at arm's length distance from business partners, Castellano says, today's IS professionals are relationship managers, project leaders and well-tapped sources of business expertise. And these new roles have been embraced by IS staff and business executives alike. "The staff wants to operate this way; they want to be perceived as being close to the customer," Castellano says. Bell Atlantic business executives have proved willing to spend the money it takes to train IS for these new roles. "Business executives are dying for an IS organisation to be like this," Castellano says. "When you have your number of projects grow and the IT organisation shows it can step up to the plate and be ready to swing [as Bell Atlantic has], you don't have a lot of trouble selling this approach to CEOs and CFOs. It's what they want." In the end, no investment will guarantee you the ability to infuse your IS organisation with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules or the stamina of Atlas. But if you can create better project managers and internal consultants to fill the new, strategic IS roles of the future, then you will have performed superheroics that even Captain Marvel would envy.

Be Prepared

Beyond the inherent challenges of identifying and filling new IS roles, there are some obstacles for CIOs to consider before sprinting headlong into the future - Underperformers need not apply. If IS has been chronically late or over budget on projects, forget it. You need good credentials with the old IS roles before you can get your business partners to support your pursuit of new ones.

- Uh . . . we both want this, right? Don't just tell your business partners you're adopting higher-level skills; make sure they want them. If your company is happy with an order-taking IS department, you're going to have a hard time convincing people that they need psychologists or soccer players.

- Hello, goodbye. Two problems with migrating your IS staff to new roles: First, some of your employees may not want or be able to make the move; second, once you've boosted your people's skills, you've also increased their marketability. Either way, you lose staff. Prepare for attrition.

- You're not alone. There are a million CIOs in the naked city, and every one of them is facing the same pressures and competing for the same skills. The bad news is that when the destination is the future, you're running in a pack. The good news: One of you has to get there first. Might as well be you.

Low-Hanging Fruit

Want to introduce new IS roles without making big waves or upfront investments? Marc Cecere, vice president for IT Management at Giga Information Group US, offers a couple of easy first steps.

- Skeletal skills. To test response to the project management approach, identify a few key individuals and train them in the "gotta-have" project management basics (identifying business needs, setting benchmark goals, establishing metrics). Then turn these people loose on some visible business projects, Cecere says, "and advertise the hell out of their successes". With that spark, the project management fire may ignite among staffers and business partners alike.

- Relationship managers. Take a cue from the consultants without calling yourself one. Again, identify some key leaders in your group and appoint them "relationship managers". Have them spend time with IT users not just to hear their needs but to anticipate them. Nothing makes an IS group look more responsive than delivering a business solution before it's even demanded.

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