Business Acumen: The New Must-Have Skill

Increasingly, employers expect IT staffers to be business savvy. But how can a tech professional acquire these skills?


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Imagine the stereotypical IT professional: an introvert shut off from the rest of the business and relegated to the company’s back server room. In need of a translator to communicate outside his or her immediate workgroup, let alone with management, this person is as effective at identifying business concerns as a typical CEO is at recognizing a bad line of code.

While the conventional image of technology practitioners has always been exaggerated, chances are you’ve known some people who come close to fitting this bill. They’re brilliant when it comes to the technical requirements of the job, but they’re lost when you ask them to apply their skills to an unfamiliar problem, collaborate with people who don’t “speak their language” or shift on the fly when the business demands a change in direction.

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The good news for the “pure IT” person is that there’s still a place for him or her in today’s market. The bad news is that it’s an increasingly limited one as businesses continue to outsource one-dimensional jobs. With less room for growth and ultimately less job security, IT specialists who are strangers to business integration have fewer advancement opportunities.

Now that technology permeates all aspects of business, hard skills alone aren’t enough to land the most desirable IT jobs. Technology professionals who take the initiative to gain a view of the big picture, including such areas as finance, marketing and management, set themselves up for a broader and better range of employment opportunities.

Put simply, the most sought-after IT professionals don’t just know how the technology works — they also understand what it’s for. Firms need IT professionals who can work and communicate effectively with colleagues in all departments, from engineers to executives. A solid grasp of business basics, as well as an appreciation of how they drive changes in IT initiatives, is becoming almost as important as core technology skills.

CIOs Value Business Basics

In a Robert Half Technology survey of 1,400 CIOs, 41 percent said they are putting more emphasis on business fundamentals like accounting, finance and general operations when evaluating IT candidates than they were five years ago. Only 3 percent said those fundamentals have become less important.

Why the emphasis on business savvy? Companies of all sizes are beginning to understand the importance of aligning IT with business goals and are looking to hire individuals who understand how the two are intertwined.

In general, IT staff are playing a more prominent role in decisions that affect the entire company. Frequently, technology workers are assuming “integrator” roles, handling such tasks as bringing together diverse resources within the organization and sourcing services externally. Examples include project managers, product managers and business intelligence professionals. Those who can moderate, manage and design processes from inception to completion are highly sought by employers. In addition, job candidates with business knowledge demonstrate the ability and desire to learn skills that aren’t necessarily within their comfort zone, a quality all managers appreciate.

Now that IT teams are working more closely with other departments, many of the most highly valued IT roles, such as business systems analyst and project manager, are business facing and require a big-picture view.

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