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'

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That's why "you can't do it without clinical people," says Moroses. It's also why a clinical degree is a requirement for members of the applications support team at Continuum.

The need to work quickly is another key factor driving the clinical requirement, which Moroses says evolved over time.

"Before, programmers and analysts were separate. Then we took the IT person and put them in the business unit and called them a business analyst," Moroses says. "But at the end of the day, you need one person who gets it and does it. In healthcare, you need that clinical component and technical component. You have to eliminate the translation requirement because of the speed of business."

Consequently, Continuum has broadened the reach of its IT recruiting efforts. Company representatives now visit nursing schools to try to persuade students to consider careers in IT (see story below).

A nurse with firsthand clinical experience would, for example, be uniquely qualified to explain why a smaller, lighter tablet would be better than a laptop for a home healthcare provider, says Moroses. "In order to help the industry transform at this quick pace, you need this clinical part in IT," he says. "The [companies that] can transform the quickest [will have a] competitive advantage."

"It's hard for a pure IT person to understand what emergency departments and other clinicians need," he adds. "Yes, they need mobility, but not just mobility. They need mobility in certain ways."

IT-plus credentials can give IT staffers instant credibility in the eyes of users, says Moroses.

"If we're having a conversation about a system upgrade or bringing in new functionality, you need a nurse or physician talking to a nurse or physician," says Moroses.

Before Continuum started bringing clinical people into IT, "there was always skepticism that IT didn't really understand what we do," says Moroses. "The radiology group would have their own shadow IT department because they didn't trust anyone [in IT] to get the way things needed to be configured."

Now, in contrast, someone from IT "walks in with a clinical degree and there is a built-in credibility for talking to people in the clinical community."

At Grange, Fergang characterizes IT professionals with deep technical knowledge plus insurance industry experience as "foundational" to innovation.

"We have skunk works where IT people get together and come up with business solutions. We prototype these for presidents of divisions, but there's no business involvement. You couldn't do this without IT-plus business knowledge," he says.

In one of these projects, IT built a prototype that let Grange sales agents represent various policy alternatives in a single quote system. Agents could change key parameters such as deductible amounts, driver type and risk levels so customers could customize their own policies.

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