Hot IT titles: Hybrids in high demand

Job hunters, take note: Companies are seeking IT pros who can speak tech and business with equal ease.

Two-sided hybrid face and hands

The last time IT found itself awash in new job titles, evangelists, gladiators and gurus ruled the day.

As IT's fortunes rise again, a second wave of new titles is swirling through the industry. But this time around, the titles reflect a seriousness of purpose as IT continues its seismic shift from service provider to strategic business partner.

"Back in the dot-com boom, we saw a huge array of hip job titles. It was a way to attract talent to have a job with a word like ninja or master in it," says Laura Kelley, a vice president at IT staffing firm Modis. "Since the economy has gotten a little better, we see it happening again. What is new is the substance of a lot of those jobs -- big-data-driven jobs that focus on business intelligence."

Read the full report: Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2013

Indeed, the job title with the highest increase in total compensation (salary and bonus) in Computerworld's 2013 Salary Survey is one that not long ago might not have been classified under IT at all: business intelligence analyst. That job saw an average salary increase of 3.9% and an average bonus increase of 3.5%, compared to overall average increases of 2.3% for salaries and 0.9% for bonuses among all survey respondents.

The ongoing effort to capture and deploy data to drive business value puts pressure on IT to stop sitting in the bleachers and get into the game, Kelley says. As a result, IT organizations are on the lookout for switch-hitters -- folks who have business breadth and tech depth and who can address market challenges, not just solve computing problems.

Director of IT Infrastructure

At The Judge Group, a professional services firm in West Conshohocken, Pa., a lean team of 26 full-time and two contract IT staffers supports 450 full-time employees and close to 5,000 contractors. A little over a year ago, the company created the position of director of IT infrastructure to bring some consistency of process and a higher level of service to the organization.

"Our IT shop is small, with a lot of custom code," says Mike Flicker, director of applications development and data architecture, who, along with the new infrastructure director, reports to the CIO. "We didn't have a lot of strategic planning. We needed IT to move from being a reactionary entity to being a strategic resource."

The new infrastructure director, David Armstrong, has been able to advise the CIO on which networking and cloud-based technologies to invest in to bolster the company's growth plan. And he also took a portion of the IT group that had been in some disarray -- specifically, networking and the help desk -- and imposed a healthy structure on it, according to Flicker.

"Through his leadership and the implementation of these processes, he got them on board and turned them around," Flicker says. "Their response time is so good now, I'd put them up against any in the world."

Chief Knowledge Officer

When David Rosensaft began putting together the team for his brand-new business, he too recognized the need for a high-level business-tech hybrid position. His company, Universal Medical Access, was officially funded six months ago and is developing a data-intensive integrated online service to improve healthcare delivery. His management team is made up of eight individuals with deep prior experience in their respective fields -- "we're all gray-haired gurus," he says -- who function collegially, regardless of title.

In addition to a CIO and several CTOs, CEO Rosensaft opened up a slot for a chief knowledge officer. The CKO works closely with the CIO but reports directly to Rosensaft.

"We needed someone who had enough experience with the medical field and a high degree of expertise in technology so he could help us be oriented both ways -- facing in and facing out," Rosensaft says. The CKO, he adds, should be "someone who understands how to cooperate with outside entities and then can help us deploy that knowledge in all parts of the organization."

Rosensaft is optimistic that the CKO title will become more popular. "Right now, I'm not sure there's a standard definition," he says. "But it's been around since the early days of Microsoft and Apple. [Former Microsoft CTO] Nathan Myhrvold was basically a CKO. As companies embrace the network effects of technology, the CKO will be a more and more standard role, rather than just a buzzword. If you're a knowledge-based organization developing technology that requires profound domain expertise, you need this title in your operation."

Application Business Analyst

Not all of the hot job titles are positioned at the thin-air heights of the org chart. When Steve Hyde became CIO of Alta Resources in Nina, Wis., 15 months ago, he opened up a new midlevel position in the customer care company's 70-person IT group: application business analyst.

"When I came here, I noticed that each part of the business -- HR, finance, IT -- managed its own technology," Hyde says. "People were doing their own upgrades that ended up being incompatible with the infrastructure. They didn't necessarily know what was available in the market or what questions to ask a vendor."

The new application business analyst will work with the business teams on current and future processes, looking at what canned software packages are available and making sure what's chosen meets functional and business needs. He or she will bridge the gap that exists between IT and the functional units, Hyde says.

"It's a blended role -- a combination of business analyst and project manager," he explains. "Unfortunately, I'm having a hard time finding someone to fill it."

Hyde attributes that difficulty in part to the job market -- IT jobs are numerous and talent is scarce in his part of the state. But he also points out that the new job requires someone with a particular kind of personality. He's holding out for a person who has a blend of tech skills and business process re-engineering capabilities.

For the right person, this midlevel job has great growth potential, he notes -- and not just within the confines of traditional IT. "The job in and of itself is IT-based, but it uses and cultivates skills that could lead to a job in operations or other non-IT areas," says Hyde.

Technology Solutions Engineer

Erik Cummings, director of IT at NetSuite in San Mateo, Calif., is so hot on the new job title he's introduced -- technology solutions engineer -- that he's in the process of transitioning two existing employees into the slot and hiring a third from the outside.

Why the push? "We need people who think business solutions, not just problem-solving," Cummings says. "We need IT to be the kind of organization that, if you're on the business side, we know your problem before you know it."

Cummings says that there's no question in his mind that technology solutions engineers are a unique breed. Their characteristic trait boils down to one thing: flexible thinking. "These people are not only the Swiss Army knives of IT, with a breadth of experience in various applications," he explains. "They can sit down and show me that they understand what a business problem consists of and [produce] a bunch of creative ways to solve it."

The kind of people who do well in this job are those that feel a personal investment in the success of the organization: "They have an unwavering tenacity to get it right for the business," he says.

The new hybrid IT job titles are a reflection of the larger shift that's taking place across the tech sector.

"Six to 10 years ago, people looked to hire subject-matter experts," Cummings says. "Now the smartest thing someone in this field can do is to multitrack their career. Above all, realize that IT isn't just a service organization anymore."

Next: Opinion: Hire slowly and hire well

Wilkinson, a Lexington, Va., writer, is the former publisher of Brain,Child Magazine.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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