The year and the economic downturn took a toll on many IT departments, as cuts in IT staffing and budgets drove down employee morale. Yet some IT managers said the changes worked out for the best, allowing IT to focus on specific business needs and become more involved in decision making and strategic planning earlier on.
In our annual IT salary and careers survey, 50% of more than 640 IT managers at midsized organizations said their IT budget was lower in 2009 than it was in 2008. Some 41% of IT organizations at companies with 100 to 1,000 employees also shrank in size, 63% of those by layoff, with the balance by attrition or a reorganization. And 54% of the IT executives and IT managers reported having a significantly increased workload, with 50% reporting more operational duties than before. (See chart.)
Yet when asked about the atmosphere at their organizations, responses were split almost evenly among optimistic, pessimistic or neither. And in interviews, survey respondents explained that after stretching their legs and proving to themselves and their organization what they had to offer in 2009, they are feeling more empowered than ever to take on 2010.
Bob Wickham, data manager at Vermeer Corp., an agricultural and industrial equipment manufacturing company, wore more hats in 2009 than ever before -- taking on the responsibilities of a project manager, IT/business liaison and Lean Six Sigma manager for IT. This meant a heavier workload for Wickham, but one he said was worth it because he was able to work more closely with the business side.
"I've been able to help the business set expectations and refocus what they want with what they need," Wickham said. "Having the ability to get involved earlier on, before it's too late to ask why or to change course, is great to build up understanding on both sides of the fence."
In earlier years, Wickham described IT's role in the business as that of being a catcher on the other side of a 10-foot fence, blindly waiting to catch and field whatever the business sends over -- "whether it's a Buick or a baseball," he said.
But the more budget-conscious tone of 2009 forced everyone to make smarter, more efficient decisions. And that meant turning to IT as the enabler to get the most out of every investment, Wickham said.
CIO Larry Bonfante shared similar experiences with his staff at the United States Tennis Association. Even with a lower budget, fewer people on staff and more work to do, Bonfante said employee morale was higher. "There is certainly a lot more pressure on everyone, but my staff is more actively engaged in projects and decisions, and therefore feeling more empowered," he said.
His organization took on more projects this year to improve efficiency -- such as moving some back-end and internal systems to cloud computing with Amazon's cloud services. The project, which the company started this quarter, will cut the cost of hosting to a quarter of what it was when it was done in-house.
"I definitely won't miss having to let go of good people," Bonfante said. "But having a leaner staff has led to a more dynamic team, with more opportunities for growth and involvement."
Organization thrives, despite cutbacks in IT staffing
At Tuthill Corp., a privately owned industrial products manufacturer, IT was driven by aggressive goals in 2009 -- despite the loss of staff (IT also lost its CIO in a staffing cut of one third, to 18 from 27 people). According to Chad Gabriel, director of application development, working together to improve companywide efficiency kept everyone going.
I've been able to help the business set expectations and refocus what they want with what they need.
Bob Wickham, data manager, Vermeer Corp.
"We all worked long hours, but we knew that we were working on projects that would bring us out of the economic downturn with momentum, not bruised and battered," he said.
The projects focused on improving customer service, expanding internal and external collaboration efforts and creating a homegrown customer relationship management application as a less expensive alternative to purchasing one from Salesforce.com Inc. Although meeting the November completion deadlines was a lot of work and left little room for anything else, Gabriel said it cut out any IT distractions and made it easier to serve the business.
In past years, when the IT department was driven by the CIO (since laid-off), Gabriel said that although IT worked to support the business, there was also a lot of time spent on purely IT projects.
"The CIO was really big on trends," Chad said. "He would say, 'Here are the new tools that should best support IT according to Gartner and Forrester -- let's do them.'"
Possible changes in IT staffing for the future
As staff members step up to take on more and prove their worth to the organization, there's a shift in the types of positions IT is looking to hire, according to Bob Clabaugh, director of network and systems engineering at Northwest Regional Education Service District in Hillsboro, Ore.
"Specialists are in big trouble, in my opinion," Clabaugh said. "Broad-skilled generalists who have had their hand in everything are going to be the ones scooped up by midmarket IT shops." Smaller organizations will be looking to fill multiple roles with one person, saving on employee onboarding costs and multiple salaries.
"Expanding job roles, and having success with those employees, will change the demographics of the positions," he said. "This is especially true in midmarket organizations that don't have the luxury to compartmentalize IT."
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