Take Chiquita Brands International. CIO Manjit Singh explained on a panel this morning the complicated logistical challenges Chiquita grapples with every day. Bananas and packaged salads need to make it from points of origin to store shelves in a matter of days, or they'll spoil, and IT plays an important role in this rapid-fire supply chain. Then you have the occasional curve ball, like the one Hurricane Ike delivered to Chiquita this past week, affecting its Gulf Coast banana delivery ports.
These daily challenges require Chiquita to have an IT staff that has a good understanding of the business issues so it can keep pace in helping to solve them. Then there's this occasional problem that crops up: A business department recognizes one of these remarkable, dual-minded professionals and grabs him or her for their own. It's a cruel fact, but rarely do you see the reverse of business people coming over to the IT side. As CIOs, "we're woefully underdeveloped in our talent pools," Singh said.
In July, InformationWeek reported that IT hiring was still going strong in the second quarter, despite the weakness in most of the rest of the U.S. job market. According to our calculations of the quarterly BLS data, IT jobs increased more than 2% from the first quarter, to hit 4.1 million employed, an all-time high. Compared with the second quarter a year ago, U.S. IT employment is up 10%.
So the need is there, but are we getting the right talent out of universities? Rob Enderle, principal of Enderle Group, said in an InformationWeek 500 session later in the day that he worries that too many computer science grads come out of college knowing a lot more about gaming systems than business systems. "There's a lot of experience on the wrong problems," he said.
It's also a concern of Toby Redshaw, CIO of insurance company Aviva. Modern business-process management talent is critical, he notes, and "you should be really worried about where you get that talent from." Any time you can help the business shave time and money, he notes, the more the business side is going to invest in the IT department. And that effort starts with good talent.
Despite the crappy economy, it's a good time to be in IT. But woe to the IT professionals who don't recognize what CIOs really want.