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Global CIO: Is Everyone An IT Worker Now?

A top IT jobs consultant thinks the government and the tech industry look at the IT profession too narrowly, massively underestimating tech jobs. Should we worry about 'shadow IT' employees?

There's no doubt the line is blurring between IT and line-of-business roles, and that technology will keep making the distinction less clear. Look at Oracle's OBIEE 11g update announced this week, which seems custom-built to blur such lines. Doug Henschen writes about these capabilities, noting that several high-end functions are now accessible by a business user from the user interface. Write Henschen:

The blending of diverse data sources was there as a data modeling capability in 10g, but 11g upgrade extends the capability to the user interface. "Now you can have an OLAP-style user experience with hierarchical columns, custom members and groups, and rich interactivity even directly on an OBIEE dashboard," said Paul Rodwick, vice product of Product Management, Oracle Business Intelligence.

However, the thought of dragging more and more of these tech users into "IT" categories sounds like the opposite direction from what CIOs should be trying to do. CIOs are winning by embracing these increasingly fuzzy roles, pushing some of their most talented people into spots where it's hard to tell the business role from the IT role. Here's how SunPower CIO Jorg Heinemann described a particularly coveted type of project leader, in our Salary Survey article this year:

Does the person have great career prospects in either an IT role or a business unit role? For example, Heinemann has someone leading a CRM effort whose next role could easily fall inside IT or on the marketing team. “That’s the kind of leader we need and is the hardest to find,” he says.

Royal Caribbean International CIO Bill Martin recently described how he has a six-person team digging for new, data-driven business opportunities--exactly the kind of blurred business-IT role that's proving so valuable.

There are two problems with trying to classify more people as "tech" jobs. One is that CIOs are succeeding by embracing this fuzziness, and pushing more IT-savvy folks into business roles. And two, once you start calling 20 million working people IT pros, soon no one's really a true IT professional. It risks diminishing true expertise.

Of course there's a very real question of how to value and compensate people who have these blended skills. Experts such as Foote bring a nuanced understanding of that, with its decade-plus experience parsing skills and experience and putting market values on them. But for the average org chart, we'll more likely see fewer people listed as IT roles, not more.

That's my take. David Foote himself is heads-down getting his 2Q benchmark research done, so he couldn't talk in depth about this, but I'll loop back to this discussion when we connect. In the meantime, what do you think -- are we under-counting the number of U.S. tech workers, by defining them too narrowly?

Global CIO small globe Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.

To find out more about Chris Murphy, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO.

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