Top Trends for 2010

It’s no secret that people are holding on tight to their money these days. Businesses are no exception. Throughout 2010, IT professionals can expect that nearly all aspects of purchasing, operations and training will be governed by financial risk. Senior executives will be asking themselves, “How do we spend most efficiently to get the most in return?”

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean budgets will be slim going forward.

“People are taking a much more proactive approach to their IT and technology structure. You can only pack it on ice for so long,” said John Reed, district president for Texas, Oklahoma and Tennessee at Robert Half Technology. In fact, according to the company’s most recent Edge Report, IT hiring is poised for dramatic growth.

“IT was the No. 1 area that managers were hiring for — that was very encouraging,” said Reed, who noted that previously customer service hiring was first, followed by sales staff, and then marketing and creative. “From a business perspective, your company is either moving forward or being passed by competitors.”

For this reason, executives will be examining what they need to do to take advantage and move ahead and what enhancements are needed to ensure their companies’ health for years to come.

It’s About Money, Honey

“Today, CIOs have been shocked into the realization that budgets have been cut, things have changed, and they’re left holding the bag,” said Jeff Weber, managing director for Protiviti’s IT effectiveness controls practice. “We’re spending our time helping our clients prepare for the next 12 to 18 months: How can I have the right people in the right positions to help meet market demands? They’ve been forced to reconcile parts of the company that never were doing anything.”

According to Brett Chambers, IT director for Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts, 2010 will be characterized by an overarching “need to be more economical with IT expenses. Due to a combination of the economy, downsizing, bloated solutions and technology changes, there will be an ongoing push to consolidate resources, justify costs and centralize complexity,” he said.

He added, however, that the upside to this is “new investments need to be made in server infrastructure and virtualization technology to support these changes.”

More Specialists, Increased Collaboration

“Across the globe, we’re seeing a talent gap between business needs and people with the right skills,” said Fred Weiller, director of marketing for Learning@Cisco. Market analyses by Cisco showed that over the next three to five years, about 2 million IT networking specialists will be needed. That’s double the current level.

“We always hear in mainstream media that there are no jobs. If you look up networking, it will be the highest growth field in the U.S. until 2016,” Weiller said.

Weiller said he also expects to see increased collaboration among numerous vendors to serve the same customer — in other words, less orientation toward a single product and more dedication to finding solutions for a customer’s specific needs.

“It’s going to take some time for companies to be compliant with each other. It’s a significant new direction driven by the markets, by customers,” Weiller said, noting that such joint efforts could ultimately save clients money.

Vendor-Neutral Certification

Vendor-neutral certification also will grow more important and popular, Weiller said.

“If you don’t have vendor staffing partners on hand, you’ll need more staff,” he said. “It also matters how quickly you can react to different conditions. Fewer people with broader knowledge can act faster. [It’s an] inevitable partnership of various players.”

Weiller also pointed out that the Department of Defense now defines specific learning outcomes and desired skill sets, and he predicted the future implementation of health care IT standards as well.

“You will see standards emerge among certain industries. Organizations have aligned to that,” he said.

Rapid Merging of Business and Technology Cultures

Stronger partnerships between technology and business are all but certain over the coming year, said Brian Barnier, a principal at Value Bridge Advisors and a member of ISACA’s Risk IT Task Force. As a result, risk management will play a larger role.

“The world is increasingly concerned about risk. There’s a need to get a more complete view of IT risk as it applies to the overall business,” Barnier said.

Traditionally, risk analysis was left “to those poor people tagged with dealing with [it],” Barnier said.

Weiller said companies will increasingly look for people “who understand the business [first], then come up with a technical solution.”

Barnier also pointed out that finance, technology and other corporate departments all use different assessment methods, and Weiller said businesses are beginning to realize “they have to get out of the piecemeal method.” To help this process along, the Risk IT Task Force plans to release a Risk IT Framework and Practitioner Guide that would include a glossary of procedures being used in the industry, along with maps to other standards and practices.

Such a large focus on risk within IT also has its downsides, Chambers said.

“I expect to see IT professionals being held to more strict accountability standards, and I expect these will go overboard before they normalize,” he said. “While accountability is not a bad thing, I fear that some overreactions in legislation will retard the growth of technology for some years to come until we have legislators that are more technology-savvy.”

More Virtualization, for Real

At Purdue, Chambers recently replaced 35 older servers with a cluster of five new machines that create additional virtual servers. Taking a slice from a physical server and dividing it virtually “lets you leverage your technology and save money,” he said. “I expect to see much more widespread adaptation of virtualization of servers, data storage and application virtualization. I also expect to see an increase of open-source use in most sectors of IT due to budgetary constraints. This will be a time for open source to prove itself as a viable business strategy or die trying.”

One possible disadvantage to using more virtual servers, however, is IT staff potentially “working ourselves out of a job because you don’t need as many people to manage as many servers as you once had,” Chambers said.

Along with this, help desk jobs may be marginalized or outsourced because applications will be standardized for delivery via the Web.

“I can also see it getting harder to gain entry into the IT fields without specialized knowledge and training,” Chambers said. He and Barnier agreed that security and risk auditing will come to the fore over the next year or so.

“IT audit and security will continue to be a strong field, and I see even more jobs related to this being created soon,” Chambers said. “These include compliance officers, forensics, etc. A close second will be the network and server engineers that understand virtualization and how to get the most out of server hardware for the least expense.”

The Golden EMR Egg

A bright spot in IT’s near future is the impending U.S. requirements around electronic medical records (EMR). This will open many IT career paths, said Lior Blik, president and CEO of NITConnect and CIO of the Hoboken University Medical Center.

“Health care is rated No. 5 in IT spending. Now, they’re trying to catch up,” he said.

Blik estimates that converting paper records to electronic records during the next five years will cost the average 1,000-bed hospital about $20 million and the average 200- to 300-bed hospital about $5 to $10 million. There are already many EMR software applications being sold to health care providers, with many more in the pipeline. And every application will need IT staff to help medical personnel learn to adapt and use them, Blik said.

“One of their challenges is to bring their infrastructure up to date,” he said. “Every type of infrastructure will have to be brought up to speed. The industry is going to need a lot more people that understand EMR. It will need any IT personnel that are familiar with the various aspects of EMR, especially EMR analysts. It takes years to adopt an EMR system, and it’s a great opportunity for IT people to go into the health care market now.”

Chambers added that some other interesting technology trends to watch for are the adoption of wireless power, more powerful netbooks with the potential to replace desktops, location-aware devices (GPS enabled), and augmented reality devices. And although the cost savings may not be immediate, there will be a larger push toward “green” technology — something that may even become mandatory, he said.

Ken Sternberg is a Massachusetts-based freelancer writer who has covered wine, food, alternative fuels, technology, corporate emergency planning and many other topics for business and consumer publications. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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