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With revenue at stake, companies seek business-savvy tech workers

Fred O'Connor | April 25, 2013
IT workers increasingly need to have business acumen, in addition to staying up to date with tech skills, as companies watch the bottom line

Financial concerns in the wake of the recession are causing companies to better align IT and business and this shift is changing what is expected from technology workers, say executives and staffing professionals. Business acumen is now on par with possessing stellar technical skills, with in-demand employees those who can contribute more than code to the company.

Philips, the Dutch multinational company that makes products for the lighting, consumer electronic and health care markets, is connecting business and IT as part of a larger project aimed at boosting its stock price by reducing overhead and making the company more competitive. Mercy, a St. Louis-based medical care provider, wanted a business-savvy CIO to help the firm develop IT services it can sell in an increasingly digital health-care space. And at BoxTone, a startup focusing on enterprise mobile device management, IT workers are welcomed to submit thoughts on how to improve a product.

Overall, executives are more cautious about IT spending as businesses recover from the recession, says Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing services provider Modis.

Prior to the fiscal downturn, controlling IT spending, which can be expensive, wasn't emphasized, he says.

"From your infrastructure to your applications to portable devices, there's a lot of cost tied into it," Cullen says. "Back in the day when everybody was spending to outdo each other there wasn't as much concern about the cost." Now, "everything is about ROI," he says.

Regardless of industry, the most-sought-after candidates are not only well versed in popular technologies, but understand how their jobs are tied to better products and services, happier customers and, ultimately, the bottom line.

IT workers who fail to see how technology can boost sales or improve a product may find themselves passed over for career opportunities.

"We can send in an extremely technical individual, but if they don't have that ability to be a great listener to the business problem, they're not desired," Cullen say.

Such is the case at BoxTone. The Columbia, Maryland, company asks potential employees during the interview process if they're interested in learning the business, says CEO Alan Snyder. Applicants who react negatively to the question aren't hired.

"You must understand the business to drive it forward," he says. "I want somebody that acts and functions as an owner and has a stake and ownership in the business and our customers."

To give employees that ownership stake all workers are encouraged to share product ideas that are in the customer's best interest since satisfied users ultimately benefit the company, Snyder says.

"A lot of time some of our best ideas legitimately come from our IT group," he says. "They're working on the product everyday. They might see the missing pieces faster because in many cases they're walking the same road that our customers are walking."


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