The Future of IT: Hybrid Jobs

These days, the word “hybrid” often conjures up images of environmentally friendly vehicles and ideas of energy efficiency. But the term also is becoming associated with another hot topic: the IT job market.

There seems to be an emerging trend of hybrid positions: fusions of IT with one or more distinct fields. The forces behind it range from business-strategy issues to the expansion of IT into realms previously unexplored.

To William Pulleyblank, vice president of IBM’s Center for Business Optimization, the blending of IT with other fields is a signal of the industry’s evolution.

“I think IT is maturing as an industry,” he said. “There used to be a lot of parts of IT that had to be done by skilled professionals working just around the IT stuff itself — think of managing databases or setting up communications capabilities. What we’re seeing as it becomes more mature is that more and more of that becomes automated and really goes into the infrastructure. Now the real opportunities come about some of the new things we can do with IT.”

Take, for example, the task of positioning snow plows to tackle winter storms, he said. With the advent of high-precision weather forecasting, IT brings a whole new dimension to that area.

“How do you position the crews when the snow starts coming in? That’s a problem which, at first glance, might have nothing to do with IT,” he said. “[But now] you put that into models to understand where you’re going to need crews to respond based upon when the storm is coming on, so you make those decisions a whole lot better.”

Health care is another area in which dramatic changes resulting from IT are starting to take place. “This is really important because if you look at cost of health care, quality of health care, as well as the need for health care — all of these can get addressed by IT,” Pulleyblank said.

“How do you handle billing? How do you handle ensuring that charges to an insurance company are valid? These are the kinds of things that now are being done with IT. But again, they require knowledge around the health care area.”

The marriage of business knowledge with IT isn’t anything new. But there are about five prominent business-IT hybrids seen in the market right now — and other kinds are evolving all the time, said Dave Van De Voort, a principal human capital consultant with Mercer.

“There’s clearly an IT-HR procurement hybrid,” Van De Voort said. “The one that I think is very interesting is the whole area of project management or portfolio management or PMO [project management office]. So what used to be the IT project management officer, program management officer, is quickly becoming a corporate or enterprise function that’s creating hybrid jobs.”

Some might argue the increasing prevalence of the hybrid IT position will create a need to invest in more education. But Van De Voort said while formal schooling always is a plus, IT professionals can get similar expert development on the job. He added that he doesn’t see a risk of IT professionals becoming overqualified for some jobs as a result of too many specializations — a legitimate worry in the current job market.

But Van De Voort did point to one potential downside to the growing hybrid trend.

“It’s one thing today where we have a large population of IT professionals who are experts in IT, and we tell them to get business expertise. But the next generation of IT professionals who grow up in an environment or a company that has outsourced or offshored the technical work may be strong on the business side, but weak on the technical side,” Van De Voort said. “Some folks I’ve talked to have said that they expect the current generation of IT professionals [to be] the most technically competent IT professionals we’ll ever see.”

Another potential negative effect of hybridization is the issue of heavier workloads, a topic brought to light by a recent Robert Half International study revealing that more than one-third of CIOs cite increased workloads as the greatest source of stress for IT professionals.

“The future is very definitely one of continued pressure for more and more productivity,” Van De Voort said. “[But] we have the answer in front of us: It is to live by good systematic process disciplines so things get done the right way the first time and don’t have to be fixed in the middle of the night.”

That said, Pulleyblank and Van De Voort agreed hybrid jobs represent the future of IT.

“The IT person just can’t afford to be just IT,” Van De Voort said. “It’s not an option.”

– Elizabeth Lisican, editor (at) certmag (dot) com

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