General Technology

3 essential skills for IT professionals

Whether you are preparing for a career in information technology (IT) or you are a seasoned professional, it’s important to know what skill needs are emerging in the marketplace. As I review the technology and business landscape, I’ve made some observations about what I believe will be increasingly valuable proficiencies to bring to the table.

Demand for certain skills or an increased focus in specific areas is being motivated by drivers such as the commoditization of IT, which is moving many countries to more right-brained jobs economies; by the data deluge, which is presenting considerable opportunity to understand business in completely new ways; and by rigorous competition in the marketplace, which is forcing greater velocity in the generation of new service and product ideas.

Many roles within IT will continue to be valuable but may be more sensitive in the long run to the business landscape shifts we are experiencing. Rather than a decreasing need overall, I predict we’ll continue to see a greater role for IT in the future as well as IT skills being an important part of almost every information worker’s inventory of capabilities.

It’s also fair to point out that we’ll see new skills emerge that we can’t even imagine right now. For example, in the mid-1990s it would have been near impossible to predict skills in search engine optimization (SEO) or the whole range of IT careers that have spawned from social media.

The following three skill areas will find high demand in the marketplace either as standalone careers or in combination with other skills.

1. Coordination

In the context of IT, coordination is a skill set that provides guidance and oversight for the smooth interaction of multiple activities and their positive outcomes. It certainly includes project management, but it’s not limited to it. People who can bridge relationships between disparate participants, such as developers in an offshore location and testers at a local facility; accommodating cultural differences, advocating for collective success, and expediting answers to questions and concerns, offer significant value.

The IT coordination skills can equally live in the business, the IT organization, or in a third-party provider. In a world where achieving results can often require the participation of a multitude a loosely related resources, effective coordination skills are paramount.

Acquiring great coordination proficiency certainly comes with experience, but preparation should include focusing on negotiation skills and communications in general; problem solving techniques; understanding the fundamentals of project management; and acquiring time management and prioritization methods.

2. Analysis

Our digital world is creating mountains of new data. In fact, we are experiencing exponential growth in its volume. As an example, every two days now, we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is clearly making sense of it. The opportunity is using findings in the data for competitive advantage.

It’s becoming clear that large volumes of data can reveal new insights that were previously unknown. As examples, analysis performed on unstructured data scattered across the web can reveal sentiment on people and products. Examining the patterns within social network connections can tell us a lot about where authority resides.

It’s within this new context that we see demand for people with skills to identify and extract valuable data; perform extensive analysis on it; discover patterns and hidden secrets contained within; and make sense of it for decision-making purposes.

To acquire these skills includes training in critical thinking, analysis tools, presenting quality communications through writing and visualization, and statistics.

3. Innovation

We’ve seen large parts of IT turn into commoditized products and services. As an example, email is not a competitive advantage and it’s largely dominated by one vendor. Whether you keep that capability and its attendant skills in-house is largely a cost and risk decision. Many organizations are reviewing their internal IT capabilities and concluding, that unless they are creating new value and a distinctive advantage, they simply remain a necessary cost center.

IT leaders are being tasked to reduce the cost center component to a minimum while ramping up the competitive elements of technology. The c-suite is requiring the IT organization to commit the biggest percentage of their available capacity to partnership activities with the business in creating new opportunities. It’s this driver that is increasing the demand for innovation skills.

Innovation is the most abstract of the three skill areas in this blog as it is often the hardest to quantify. But it does include a wide range of skills that contribute to the conversion of ideas into net new business value. These include research, applied research, product evaluation and recommendations, problem solving, championing a new idea, and building a business case for investment that includes cost-benefit analysis.

As you consider your IT career, you might conclude that none of these skills are central to your interest. That’s okay, too. My view is that, should you choose another IT path, it’s still worth considering whether any of these three areas can complement your core interest. Whether you want to be or continue to be a programmer, business analyst, system administrator, or quality assurance analyst, adding one or more of the skills above can only add to your advantage.

We’re guaranteed that the needs of the IT jobs marketplace will continue to change, but if each of us is ready to acquire new skills, a career in IT will remain one of the most lucrative and exciting of the professions.

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