Where Are the Opportunities Now?

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Based on everything I have been reading lately, it appears that the IT industry has hit bottom and is making its way back. It is also becoming clear that the brutal recession we have been living through since 2001 has dramatically reshaped the IT landscape. You cannot assume that the skills you had during the IT boom in the ’90s will be in demand in the future. Plus, there is more competition from foreign markets than ever before as organizations are still seeking to operate at the lowest cost possible. As an IT professional in this transformed industry, there are trends you should be aware of and issues you should be thinking about as you seek to navigate the new world of IT.

First, have you noticed a shift in just about every marketing campaign being launched from IT companies? Their value propositions are no longer centered on how big, how fast or how Web-enabled. Instead, they are promising higher productivity at a lower cost. Most IT software and hardware companies have come to the realization that their job now is to provide solutions that customers can afford and that can be immediately translated into productivity increases for their organizations. If we translate that into what it means to the IT professional, we are going to have to learn an entirely new language. IT professionals must adopt the language used by business owners across an organization as they justify every dollar spent for every new piece of technology considered. The ability to translate what are becoming very complex IT concepts into clear and immediate value propositions has become extremely important in getting projects off the ground.

Second, a trend that appears to have eclipsed all other topics being discussed among our industry is security. Organizations have discovered that they are ill prepared from an infrastructure perspective, a business-process perspective and an IT professional-development standpoint to protect their businesses against cyber-terrorism. The past few months have seen entire IT organizations shelving mission-critical projects and abandoning traditional desktop support as corporate security has become the main concern. In fact, according to a study by IDC, “Forty percent of nearly 1,000 IT managers surveyed in July 2003 rated security as their highest priority.”

The reality is that security is not a short-term issue. Therefore, it is an area that IT professionals need to learn how to address and build into their career. The reason some corporations and government departments sailed through the recent attacks with virtually no intrusion issues while others were left vulnerable was in some cases due to the software and hardware they had deployed. However, more often their immunity was due to the ability of their IT departments to stay current with the solutions that would protect their infrastructure and with the updates being rolled out on a weekly, daily and even hourly basis. For the IT professional this means that for your knowledge to be of value to you and your employer, you must constantly build on it in order to stay ahead or, at least, to stay current.

Finally, we must accept that it is a fallacy that someday soon we are going to wake up and our industry will have bounced back, money will begin to flow in, staff will be added and those heady days of the ’90s will magically reappear. The reality is that we may have hit bottom and the IT industry is recovering, but it is going to be a long, hard road to a future that looks very different from days past. Organizations are looking to other countries to find workers to fill their entry-level positions at lower salaries. Every dollar invested and every new piece of technology considered is going to be subject to a very different type of corporate oversight. The bottom line is that we are going to have to do more with less and think creatively about bridging the divide between traditional IT and the IT landscape of the future.

In order to navigate this slow road to recovery, the best advice I can give is to focus on those areas that are the fastest-growing and where knowledge is scarcest. Not only will this allow you to survive in the tough days that still lie ahead, but you will also find yourself in the driver’s seat when the IT industry has fully reignited and returned to being the only industry any of us would ever want to work in.

Martin Bean is the chief operating officer for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers Inc., the world’s largest computer training company.


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