IT Professionals: Five Key Tips to Stay Relevant in Today’s Market

An understanding of how companies and coworkers operate is a must

9 October 2014

Image: iStockphoto

Staying competitive in today’s fast-paced technology field typically means acquiring the latest technical certifications as well as staying current on recent innovations, programming languages, and research. This is especially true for those in information technology. However, to stay relevant, experts say IT professionals need to go above and beyond by gaining business insights, people skills, and more to achieve success. Here are five tips on staying relevant in today’s market.

1. Know When to Outsource
Outsourcing is a given these days. Most every company has some task—often many tasks—that can be done faster, cheaper, and perhaps even better than by anyone on staff. But beware, sometimes outsourcing can be to their detriment. Take the iconic U.S. photography company Kodak, for example. The company outsourced almost all of its manufacturing and product design work, which meant the strategic direction of the company was, for the most part, in other peoples’ hands.

There lesson here is if you outsource the core aspects of your work, then there’s not much left that differentiates you. (And, just like Kodak, which declared bankruptcy in 2013, you probably won’t stay in business long.)

Mitchell Osak, managing director of Quanta Consulting, a technology recruitment company based in London, writes in FinancialPost.com to instead “in-source” strategic activities that are unique to your company, such as innovation, brand building, customer service, and employee training. He says to safeguard these parts of the company, while outsourcing more commonplace tasks with partners that can be trusted.  

2. Make Friends With Marketing
In August, McKinsey released a report that examines how to turn new technologies into profits. One key finding was to have the chief marketing and chief information officers work together. It says CMOs need to realize that IT “can’t just be treated like a back-office function anymore,” and that the CIOs can no longer just focus on “keeping the lights on.”

The report recommends that for a successful partnership, the CMO must define business goals and the CIO should help to provide the feasibility and cost analysis of those goals based on case studies and other research. This would involve the two sides articulating trade-offs, such as cost, time, and priorities. It would also help if the two learned to speak one another’s lingo. 

3. Think Like a Psychologist
It’s one thing to fix a computer glitch, but another to help calm down the user. Clients can become frustrated and upset when their computers crash or they lose the material they’ve been working on. There’s even a psychological term for this: computer rage.

“When your whole life is on a computer, you need more comfort from your IT person than you need from your doctor,” said Fred Goldberg in an interview with NPR. He is a consultant with Mann, an IT support company, based in San Francisco. Harold Mann, the company’s cofounder, says his facility can at times be like a hospital emergency room with his staff counseling and comforting people during those stressful situations.

Presenting yourself as someone clients confide in and trust to let into their systems is essential for helping people through what might just be the worst moment of their day. Having these types of qualities can even lead to a job. Mann admits he doesn’t just hire for talent, but also looks for people who are kind.

4. Find Glitches in the Company
According to a recent article from Information Week, top CIOs of leading Silicon Valley companies say IT leaders are increasingly being called upon to step beyond being the support function to becoming true architects and shapers of business strategy. Their advice is to help solve problems but also to help find problems. The CIOs add that IT is uniquely positioned to help company leaders, given that the group interfaces with virtually all activities and departments, while top management are oftentimes spending too much time solving the wrong problems.

5. Think Five Years Ahead
The rise of cloud computing has put pressure on IT departments to hire people who are adept not only in cloud technology but also cybersecurity. Those weren’t required skill sets just a few years ago. According to an article from Federal News Radio, IT managers must know how to find qualified people with today’s needed skills but also to anticipate what new skills will be needed in the future. Thinking ahead will help to prepare your team or company, or even yourself for what future employers will be looking for.

What other non-technical skills do you think are essential for IT professionals to have in today’s world? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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