Strategic CIO // IT Strategy
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12/10/2004
11:37 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Business Technology: Mixed Messages Conceal IT's Strength

Companies must retool their thinking to avoid falling into a mind-set that can be self-fulfilling, cautions Bob Evans. Think IT as enabler, not IT as cost center.

HEADLINE, InformationWeek.com, Dec. 1: IT Job Confidence Plunges In November

HEADLINE, InformationWeek.com, Dec. 2: Tech Pay Increases For IT Workers With Key Skills

Well, pardon us for sending conflicting signals. Or are they really conflicting after all?

Now, I don't want to be charged with practicing psychotherapy without a license, but I think that behind the first headline above lie some psychological and emotional unease that have nothing whatsoever to do with the state of the IT employment sector. (Just as I'd bet that if the survey results for the Boston area could be isolated, that profile would reveal a more-optimistic outlook than most other places in the country--it's not because Wang or Prime or Digital Equipment are coming back and hiring tens of thousands, but rather because the Red Sox won the World Series, and the afterglow is still burning awfully hot. But I digress.

The study, based on phone interviews with 9,000 workers and managers across various industries, measures employee attitudes from a baseline score of 100. While the index in October hit a high for the year of 120.8, it dropped almost 10% in November to 109.4. To be sure, that's a substantial drop; so why did it happen--what were the tangible factors that led you and your colleagues to indicate a markedly less-optimistic attitude than you had just 30 days prior?

According to my colleague Marianne Kolbasuk McGee, "Hudson [Highland Group, which conducts the monthly surveys] attributes professionals' November uneasiness to seasonal, end-of-calendar-year factors, including the tendency for companies to delay their hiring plans until after the new year, and anticipated increased holiday spending, a spokeswoman for the company says."

Oh--I see. So it's not so much anxiety and dread over imminent layoffs or 40% across-the-board pay cuts for all business-technology folk, but rather some frustration about continuing to be understaffed. Well, I guess I can see how that would make us grouchy and at least kinda ticked-off, but is that enough to slash our confidence by 10%? On the other hand, that second assumption is one we can all understand pretty well: "anticipated increased personal holiday spending." Is it real? No doubt. But the underlying factors are less dire than that headline made them appear to be--perhaps we should have gone with something like "Seasonal Frustrations, Personal Expenses Behind Drop In Job Confidence."

OTHER VOICES

"It's worth noting that the annual IT budgets of this year's InformationWeek 500 companies average $334 million. It's hard to conceive that the business-technology people at these companies don't concern themselves with long-term product planning. Which leads me to wonder about the point of view of the people resisting a Linux road map: Are they Linux developers or Linux deployers? Because if Linux developers--who have demonstrated remarkable creativity, flexibility, and commitment until now--are digging in their heels without seriously considering the Linux user's needs, that could be a big mistake."

-- John Foley's Windows Weblog, Dec. 8


The other headline at the top of this column, though, is, as Dandy Don Meredith used to say on Monday Night Football, "dead-center perfect," and it's such a sweet message that you'll probably want to read it again, so I'm more than happy to write it again: "Tech Pay Increases For IT Workers With Key Skills." To quote once more my prolific colleague, Marianne Kolbasuk McGee from the story under that headline: "The study, which examined IT salary data from about 45,000 IT workers from nearly 2,000 North American and European employers, showed that talent-retention fears, offshore outsourcing disappointments, and aggressive hiring by consulting firms is pushing up pay for several skills areas, including application development, networking, groupware, and messaging." I don't think we can attribute this to seasonality, personal concerns, or even the Boston Red Sox. And consider these comments in the story from David Foote, president and chief research officer of Foote Partners, which conducted the study:

• "Some skills areas had been declining more than 11% over the last three years. Overall, there's still a 3% to 4% decline (in pay for IT skills overall), but you see key areas bucking this trend, which is a positive sign."

• "Messaging was dead--who would've thought that would've popped back up." But the rapid acceptance of voice over IP in large organizations has triggered this unexpected demand for focused and relevant skills, with pay for this specialized sector climbing 4.5% this year.

• "Adjusted pay and rewards" are being shelled out for critical talent as companies look to stem the brain-drain of the past few years that many employers either actively encouraged or certainly did little to halt.

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