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12/29/2005
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Skills That Will Matter

U.S. companies are likely to keep project-management and business capabilities in-house for the next few years

If job security is on your mind, then it's time to hone your business and project-management skills. Those are the talents that IT execs identify as important to keep in-house, according to a Society for Information Management survey of more than 100 IT managers.

More than 60% of respondents say their companies likely will keep certain business-oriented skills--functional-area, company, and industry knowledge; business-process reengineering; change management--in-house until 2008. Project-management skills, such as planning, budgeting, and scheduling; project integration; and negotiations, are deemed critical to keep in-house by nearly the same number of respondents.

Home Field AdvantageOf 15 technical skill sets covered in the survey, only three--systems analysis, system design, and IT architecture--are seen as critical to keep in-house by more than 60% of the respondents. Security skills were named by a bit more than half (55%) as "emerging as newly important" to keep in-house.

Business and industry knowledge, as well as communications and negotiating skills, are increasingly important in IT, says Stephen Pickett, CIO at transportation company Penske Corp. and new SIM president. "The higher you go in the IT organization, the more you need to know about business," he says. "IT is the umbrella for most companies. You get to see a lot of everything."

As businesses increase their use of off-the-shelf software and continue to outsource IT, companies increasingly need the expertise of tech professionals who understand how companies can take advantage of all of a software's capabilities, Pickett says. "IT pros will need to step up," he says.

Universities are seeing this trend as well. More computer-science majors are taking courses offered by the business school, and more business-school students are seeking tech classes, says Judy Simon, director of the Center for Innovative Technology Management at the University of Memphis and one of the nearly two dozen researchers who are analyzing data from the SIM survey. The survey found an increasing demand from employers for business-technology professionals with "customer-facing, client-facing" skills and understanding, Simon says.

Tech professionals can attain and polish business and industry skills by working on projects and in different areas of a company, Pickett says. Formal education offered by universities and professional groups also can help. SIM offers regional leadership forums, including training in soft skills, such as communicating with peers. Participating in these encourages even seasoned professionals to "learn to learn," Pickett says. "When you leave school, you have a basic set of skills, but you need to know how to continue learning."

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