IT career paths you never dreamed of

Your cube is in finance or on the shop floor. Your title has been scrubbed of all geekiness.

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"The IT department is being disintermediated, but in a good way. It is being pushed farther up the food chain," says Kamud Kalia, CIO at Toronto-based Direct Energy, an $8 billion integrated energy services company. "A lot of stuff IT would have done, they no longer need to do. The problems have been fixed or the technology has been commoditized."

Ten years ago, for example, "you'd put smart guys on the project of joining applications together," Kalia says. "Now, middleware has obviated the need for that. You still want to have smart people, but you want them solving business problems, not technical ones."

With that shift in mind, CompTIA made changes to its Tech Career Compass, which tracks IT job titles and the skills required to fill IT various roles. "We put in a whole section on communication skills, dealing with customer relationship management and security," explains Gretchen Koch, director of skills development.

Goodbye, systems analysts

Still other companies, like Animas, a Johnson & Johnson company in West Chester, Pa., are eliminating traditional IT roles and titles, such as systems analysts and administrators, as they either outsource data centers or contract with vendors to provide software as a service.

"Outsourcing, globalization and the cost reduction for WAN technology all work to eliminate the need for systems administrators, help desk people or developers," says Animas CTO Bogdan Butoi. "We don't want developers on our staff for all of these technologies. We pretty much have kept only business-savvy people who we expect to be partners in each department and to come up with solutions.

"I don't know if at some point we will be a [completely] distributed IT department with resources in each business department, or if we'll stay as a central IT department," he adds. "Right now, we have relationship managers for each department. We're still an IT department, but we have dedicated IT people for each department."

It is IT, for example, that conducts focus groups with physicians, patients and others to develop new products and software for the glucose pumps, insulin meters and other diabetes-related products that Animas develops. Another telling indicator of IT's deeply embedded business role: "IT is measured on how many original products come from us without anybody asking for them. We're being measured on how we're pushing innovation," Butoi says.

While job titles for these emerging roles have yet to be standardized, the overall career focus seems pretty clear: It's all about business. The one trend that virtually all of the emerging IT titles and roles seem designed to reflect is technology professionals' inextricable connection to the products and/or services their companies provide and not to specific technologies or gear like Java or WANs.

"You'll see titles like 'solutions architect' and 'product architect' that convey involvement in providing the product or service to a purchaser, as opposed to titles like 'network engineer,' says CSC's McCue.

This is because "the notion of separation between IT and operations has been totally blurred," says TNS North America CIO Enzo Micali, who in January acquired the additional title and responsibilities of executive vice president of operations at the 14,000-person global custom research company.

TNS has no computer programmers, for example. "Everyone is either an architect or engineer -- someone who has to have deep technological capabilities to automate a business process that they know just as deeply," Micali says.

Working for the company, not the IT department

At Direct Energy, job titles -- especially titles in the 350-person IT organization -- are purposely kept vague. "We keep the titles generic, and people can apply descriptive labels to what they do," says Kalia.

"I want them to think of themselves as people who work for this company, not people who work for this company's IT department," he says. "We have an energy supply business to manage. That's our business, and we want to do it as efficiently as possible. It doesn't really matter what the IT job is."

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