Wanted: IT staffers with vertical industry chops

Technical skills and business knowledge are table stakes as savvy companies up the ante, looking for staffers who also know their industries inside and out. Welcome to the new world of 'IT Plus'

One out of five IT staffers on the clinical applications team at Continuum Health Partners in New York is also a nurse, a pharmacist or another type of clinical specialist. For IT managers and directors, a clinical degree is a must.

At $1.3 billion Grange Insurance in Columbus, Ohio, CIO Michael Fergang exclusively recruits IT staffers with insurance industry experience.

Sam Lamonica, CIO at $750 million Rosendin Electric, has taken to luring experienced engineers and operations people in the field to work in IT. Lamonica also admits to "stealing shamelessly" from Rosendin's competitors.

It's not that San Jose-based Rosendin doesn't already have a fabulously talented and experienced IT staff, Lamonica says.

"We have a number of really smart analysts on our business applications team who are mathematics majors as well [as technologists]. The challenge is they're fairly clueless about what goes on at a job site on a given day," he says. And Rosendin typically is working more than 1,500 multimillion-dollar jobs simultaneously in any given month.

Candid CIOs from healthcare, financial services and manufacturing all tell a similar story. Fast-changing business processes, the need for speed, consumers' insatiable appetite for customization and the need to comply with a growing list of government regulations and industry standards are all working to complicate day-to-day operations beyond the most business-savvy technologist's ability to keep pace. Now what is critically necessary are not only technical skills and business knowledge, but also deep industry expertise, the kind that comes from calculating a quote and selling an insurance policy or calibrating and administering intravenous pain medication to a cancer patient, for example.

Think of it as IT-plus.

"At the end of the day, you need a person who gets it all," says Continuum CIO Mark Moroses.

Healthcare reform and the hyper-accelerated pace of change are two of the biggest factors driving the need for IT-plus credentials at Continuum, says Moroses.

"The healthcare industry is highly regulated," and adherence to those regulations is what makes or breaks the bottom line, he says. Under state and federal regulations, Continuum, a partnership of New York's Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Luke's Hospital and Roosevelt Hospital, reports to 11 regulatory agencies. On top of that, there are the hundreds and hundreds of regulations and reporting requirements imposed by insurance companies.

"Getting technical people to understand regulations is tough because it's a field they're not interested in," says Laurie Anne Buckenberger, Continuum's assistant vice president of corporate IT and a nurse practitioner. Clinicians, on the other hand, live and breathe healthcare regulations from the time they enter the field.

To retain certification, hospitals are required to follow and regularly report on 157 different quality measures. "On your first job as a staff nurse, you're taught about the requirements of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations," Buckenberger says. "It's also embedded in you from the time you start [nursing] school."

Johanna Ambrosio speaks with IT leaders at this year's Premier 100 event to find out what types of people they are hiring to work in IT. More often, IT is going beyond technology skills to find the right pieces for their organizations.

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