That's the warning coming from Gartner, Inc., an industry analyst firm. Being a specialist in a specific technology, like Linux, Windows or database administration, isn't going to be enough of a calling card in the not-so-distant job market.
''Let's just say it's no longer going to be a question of just having good technical ability -- of having a specialty,'' says Diane Morello vice president of research at Gartner. ''If you're just maintaining a specialization without raising their caliber, it's not going to be enough... Companies will need people who are broader. The people I'm talking about are 'versatilists'.''
Morello says a new Gartner study shows that the job market for IT specialists will shrink by 40 percent by 2010.
To be employable, IT professionals will need to be skilled in multiple technologies, and they'll need to have experience working with the business side of the company, participating in business projects and able to communicate with co-workers outside of IT, as well as customers.
Morello says Gartner analysts asked CIOs what staff additions they plan to make over the next few years. Respondents said that by 2009 to 2010 processes, relationships and sourcing management will be the biggest areas of growth. The technology infrastructure and services space will experience the greatest decline. And that decline is partly because of the continued offshoring trend, as well as because of the growing automation of IT work.
''People need to become versatile through relationships and involvement outside their specific domain and work on various projects,'' says Morello. ''There is a shift afoot and many companies are really looking for people with a broader set of expertise who can show real business contribution and participation in business results.''
To get that experience, Morello advises IT professionals to work on teams with the business side, to jump on technical projects outside their specialty and to get involved with a list of business projects.
Kevin Knaul, executive vice president of the Hudson Highland Group, a professional staffing and outsourcing company based in New York City, says people with singular specialties need to rethink their resumes.
''It's important to understand how employment trends and hiring trends have shifted for IT workers,'' says Knaul. ''When we look at them, we have a host of individuals with specialized skill sets who are in the highest demand they've ever been in -- SAP and Oracle packages, or Java or Microsoft.net... For the time being, we see that continuing but it will reach a maturity.
''But specialization isn't a great thing in the long run,'' he adds. People tend to pigeonhole themselves. If they're not diversified, they'll find themselves in a bad situation. Plenty of IT people are on the bench right now because they're specialized in technologies that aren't in high demand. Look at some of the older PeopleSoft skills or older technologies like Cobal or C++.''
It's time, analysts say, for IT professionals to pick their heads up and take a broader look at the industries they're in, and the companies they're working for, or want to work for. It's time to figure out how the company is serving its customers and what they can do to help that process.
''When we look at it historically, the IT department has had their heads down and they've only be into the technology,'' says Knaul. ''But people in demand right now are increasingly in business-facing projects. They understand how the technology supports the business. They help make decisions about what technologies to bring in to help the business... They need fundamental business experience and the technical background to link it all together.''
But Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, a Nashua, N.H.-based industry analyst firm, says it can be difficult to walk the fine line between being a specialist and becoming involved with so many different projects that you are nothing more than a generalist.
''It's always somewhat of a tug of war,'' says Haff, who adds that this is a trend that's been a long time coming. ''There's often been this specialty of the moment, and a lot of people run out and get this certification or that certification. It often creates a flood and then it turns out that a lot of IT shops are looking for people who can do more than one narrow thing... I would agree there is a demand for people who are less stove pipes in terms of what they can do.''
He adds that IT has been heavily criticized over the years for focusing solely on technology, without giving thought to the business and processes and customers. It's a criticism, he says, that needs to be addressed.
''Being the person who knows everything about Windows and wants nothing to do with Linux -- that's not necessarily going to be good for your career,'' says Haff. ''It's not what [the company] is going to be looking for. Try to approach your IT role as a business person, as somebody who is really looking to assist the company's business processes, as opposed to just focusing on the technology.''