IT departments may be losing their bad reputation

Adoption of soft skills may be helping

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The pejorative that IT is the "department of no" may no longer be true -- if it ever really was.

A new study strongly suggests that most business users are generally pleased with their IT departments, with eight out of 10 business managers surveyed saying that they view their relationship with IT as either positive or neutral.

"Business units tend to view IT as a valuable partner rather than a hindrance," according to CompTIA, which produced the report. The industry group collected data for the report through an online survey of 275 business professionals and 375 technology professionals, and through some interviews. 

According to CompTIA, 52% of the business managers reported having a "good relationship" with IT.

The survey presented respondents with a series of statements and asked them to assess the relationship of business managers with IT. A more neutral view included an affirmative response to the statement that IT "plays a critical support role."

While only half of the respondents hold IT in the highest regard, it was, nonetheless, "the top statement that people agreed to," said Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA. "There's room for improvement, but it is nice to see that this is the prevailing sentiment," he said.

The reasons for the overall satisfaction with IT can't be easily pinned down. Some see soft skills development, such as empathy and flexibility, as having a role.

Howie Liu, co-founder and CEO of Airtable, a company that makes what it describes as an easy-to-use database, says he is interested in hiring people with deep technical skills who also show a genuine curiosity to explore new things; he specifically mentioned interests in topics such as deep space and biology. Strong candidates also need an ability to work effectively with others. Soft skills matter because the "hard" technical skills are constantly changing, he said.

The CompTIA study suggests rogue IT may actually be playing a role in spurring collaboration between IT and business units, and that working with IT is a way to avoid the security and integration problems that may arise when users try to set up systems on their own and circumvent the corporate IT group. "Business units show a clear preference for IT taking the lead on security issues," said the CompTIA report. In the survey, 47% of the respondents cited security as the most needed skill.

After security, the study found that most-needed skills were cloud architecture and virtualization. But business skills and soft skills also ranked strongly, with 39% of the respondents indicating a need for innovative people with analytical and problem-solving abilities, as well as a flexible attitude.

Gene Leganza, an analyst at Forrester, says the survey's finding that security is playing a role in improving IT's relationship with business units rings true. "People recognize that security is important and IT is the place go," he said.

Joe LeCompte, principal of PMG, a maker of enterprise service catalog software, said rogue IT could be considered a wedge in the relationship. Rogue actions are often associated with the "consumerization" of expectations among employees. For example, if the IT department tells a user that it may take a week to get a server instance, the user may turn to Amazon Web Services or some other cloud provider. If IT isn't listening to its customers and trying to understand their needs, it risks becoming irrelevant, he said.

From Leganza's perspective, rogue IT is a "democratization" of IT that's taking place as more technology functions are carried out by business units. Some business people find that such projects are more successful when done in collaboration with IT, he said.

Assessing the state of the overall IT-business relationship, Leganza said, "Things are more positive than they were five, 10 years ago."

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