It’s something almost every IT professional worries about: will my job be outsourced?
That’s a valid worry. Undoubtedly, outsourcing is here to stay. Year after year, jobs migrate offshore, forcing American IT workers to scramble for new positions.
In the past, companies use to agonize over outsourcing, says Gartner analyst Diane Morello. But not anymore.
“Now, when I talk to companies, it is assumed that outsourcing and offshore outsourcing are at least candidates for their sourcing portfolio,” she tells Datamation. “There is much less dismay and horror.”
The trend toward outsourcing waxes and wanes. If you’re a tech professional wishing that outsourcing would dry up and blow away (before your job does) there might a glimmer of hope.
“I have seen a little bit of a move away from outsourcing,” says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala. “I think we went whole hog one way on the pendulum toward outsourcing, and I think there’s a certain balance.”
Yet whether companies will actually find that balance is unclear, he tells Datamation.
IDC analyst Steve Minton concurs that the trend toward outsourcing isn’t as explosive as it was two or three years ago. However, “It’s one of the fastest growing sectors when you compare it to other areas of the tech industry overall.”
Okay, so maybe the glimmer of hope is pretty dim. Then what, in the face of a constant threat from outsourcing, is an IT professional to do?
For IT workers, an effective way to battle the threat of outsourcing is to be a “versatilist,” says Gartner’s Morello.
A versatilist is a multi-skilled tech professional. A versatilist starts with a strong depth of knowledge in one area, like application development or IT financial planning. “They then broaden their expertise, their track record, their recognition and their experience over time so that they stretch into multiple domains of expertise,” she says.
This individual is in sharp contrast with “the average technical specialist, who’s fairly deep but narrow.”
A versatilist can handle responsibilities across a couple (or even several) different departments. The skill set combination that’s most sought after is – not surprisingly – IT and business.
“Firms are looking for people who can come in and be successful business analysts – maybe people who’ve done it elsewhere,” Morello says. This same in-demand quality is also true of business relationship managers.
The job title ‘business analyst’ may seem far a field from IT. However, this is now very much part of what IT departments are held accountable for, however separate it is from deep technical skills.
When Morello talks with CIOs and IT leaders, she finds them to be struggling to find tech staffers “who are business savvy, who can really communicate and be fluent in business and technology issues, and who can raise the bar for the organization overall.”
An Agile Workforce
For CIOs, a versatilist offers a tantalizing possibility. “CIOs like them because when they look at their organization to figure out, ‘Do I have an agile workforce, can I move my people around easily?’ Versatilists give them a bit more flexibility than specialists do.”
In today’s IT department, perhaps 10 percent of staffers might be versatilists. If that number were to increase to 30 or 40 percent, that organization would have the broad-based knowledge to respond to market conditions far faster than its competitors.
Clearly, the concept of the versatilist has its limits. IT firms will always need experienced specialists. In particular, network engineers are hot right now, as are project managers. (Then again, a good project manager is really a versatilist.)
So the hopes that CIOs have of a deep bench of versatilists might be just pipe dreams at this point.
“There’s a disconnect between what CIOs say their organization will look like in the future, and what their hiring managers are accountable for getting today,” Morello says.
Value That Can’t Be Transferred
Unfortunately, IT professionals aren’t always allowed the latitude to grow within an organization. If you’re a specialist who wants to expand into another area, you’re seldom allowed to do so – your firm needs your full attention on your niche area.
However, “The versatilist can look like many things,” Morello says. While a combination of business and tech is one excellent choice, there are other versatile skill sets a tech professional can acquire to be more marketable.
No matter what specific skills he or she has, the versatilist is:
• Tapped into multiple knowledge networks
• Tapped into multiple social networks
• Able to offer value that cannot be easily commoditized and transferred
Often, this special value comes from excelling at face-to-face interactions, Morello notes. Also indispensable are staffers who work directly with interpretation of business or consumer requirements. “Those are the ones whose positions and roles may be secured longer than others.”
The key word here is interpretation. The versatilist is able to understand and synthesize trends from many industries.
“It’s what I would call ‘contextually connected.’ It’s the people who are deeply tapped into the context of the business and industry and the requirements that are going on there.”