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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"Knowing our business, we could take a single quote and represent it in different ways," Fergang explains.

In another project, IT created a series of transaction-driven alerts for agents. The alerts notify agents about events that affect their customers and/or their sales performances. For example, an agent might be immediately alerted if a customer called the insurance carrier, rather than the agent, to make a change to his policy.

"We created the first six alerts knowing what the business needed," Fergang notes. Since then, there have been more than two dozen ideas for additional alerts.

"If you understand the business and the business strategy, I really do believe IT is in a unique position in that it can bring business solutions to the business that the business can't even imagine," Fergang says. But you have to have the right business aptitude, he adds. "My managers are better businessmen than technologists," he says.

Valuable Time in the Field

In the increasingly complex construction business, Rosendin's Lamonica says engineers and others from the field are much better qualified than IT specialists when it comes to building and supporting software applications and other automated tools used on job sites. They know about workflows, contractor scheduling and overall construction project management, he says.

This expertise is becoming even more important as the industry moves more toward the time-sensitive practice of installing prefabricated assemblies rather than building on-site.

"Prefabrications save a ton on time and money, and the project manager has to know when they have to go [on-site]," Lamonica explains. Most construction sites are space-constrained and don't have a lot of extra room to store an inventory of prefabricated modules. Instead, prefabricated components for big projects, like a 20-floor hospital building, are ordered, built off-site then shipped to the project site on a just-in-time basis. "We in IT wouldn't have a clue how that works," he notes.

Lamonica regularly dispatches technical IT staffers to the field to learn from construction workers who are using automated and mobile tools. He also recruits field staffers to spend a year or two in IT as a way to offer on-the-job training.

"These are people with construction experience" and knowledge that is critical to IT if the company is to design and deliver tools that are truly efficient and productive in the field, Lamonica says.

"But the big challenge is that we can have 1,700 jobs going on at the same time," which makes it very difficult to keep pace with demand, he says. On-the-job use of consumer and mobile technologies is making it even more essential for IT staffers to have bona fide construction and industry knowledge.

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