Diplomacy, tact, business smarts are skills it professionals need

It’s no secret the IT profession is in a constant state of transformation. Continued advancements in technology, offshore outsourcing, national and regional market trends and a host of other factors contribute to the evolving nature of our field. While these situations are all vastly different, the implication for your career is the same for each. Deep technical skills will always remain at the core of every IT professional’s skill set, but there’s more reason than ever to strengthen your non-technical experience to move your career forward. Consider these examples:

Advancements in networking technology mean that many operations that were previously handled by human operators – for example, testing and rollouts – can now be accomplished through software alone. As a result, networking professionals are increasingly being asked to shift their focus from operational tasks to strategic thinking. Technical skills are required to launch and monitor processes, but senior staff are also moving into roles where they collaborate with colleagues from other departments to examine big-picture initiatives.

On the development side, organizations of all sizes continue to utilize ERP programs, such as those produced by Oracle, SAP and PeopleSoft, to replace in-house systems and link various internal processes.

Traditionally, the majority of firms bought off-the-shelf technology and relied on teams of programmers to customize the code to meet their own set of circumstances. For example, the financial module in the packaged software might align seamlessly with the company’s existing accounting process, but the human resources module might need a complete overhaul to prove useful.These modifications were, in many cases, expensive and sometimes prevented the organization from successfully upgrading their ERP programs.

A growing number of firms are now taking a different approach – they’re modifying their business processes rather than the applications they purchase. In addition, software firms have developed more customizable ERP solutions, allowing for flexible configuration options that don’t require code-based changes. Combined, these factors contribute to significant cost savings for the organization as less customer support is needed, upgrades can be made faster and more efficiently, and implementation is simpler. Companies, therefore, require technology staff to take a more functional approach than in the past. Today’s IT professionals need a deep knowledge of the complex configuration options available for top ERP packages, as well as the ability to identify areas where business processes can be modified to fit with ERP applications. Thus, developers and business systems analysts must possess a thorough understanding of the organization as a whole and have the skills to link the technical and business sides of an issue.

No matter what your role is within your firm’s IT department or the unique issues you may be facing, it’s becoming necessary for all IT professionals to possess the following non-technical abilities:

n Communication skills: As businesses place increased focus on technology, they seek strong communicators who can clearly explain complex technical concepts to a variety of colleagues.

n Business fundamentals: IT professionals must be able to understand the company’s operations and translate business requirements into savings.

n Interpersonal skills: Diplomacy and tact are essential when working on teams.

Technology executives agree that non-technical skills are gaining importance. Build these abilities by assuming greater responsibility, taking continuing education courses and networking.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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