Role of IT manager changing with times

31 Oct 2002

There’s a cold wind of change blowing through the IT sector these days. The most obvious difference is that companies are no longer crying out for IT managers and prepared to pay anything to get them. But the change is more fundamental than that caused by the economic slowdown. The jobs themselves have evolved.

Some of the people best placed to observe this change are in the recruitment industry as it is they who can track the evolution of job definitions as supplied by client companies.

“The first element in the evolution of the IT manager’s job is that as more and more products and services are made available to companies, the amount of individual packages they are responsible for has grown,” says Tom Clancy of Elan, part of the Manpower Group.

“Historically, the manager would have been looking after internal company systems such as a server and clients. Now he looks after help desks, telecoms, internet, intranet and communications external to the company,” he explains.

According to Gerry Rockingham, operations director at Skillbase, also a member of the Manpower Group, companies are moving away from defining the job in purely technical terms and want their IT managers to have business skills. “Four years ago IT was seen as a cost to the company,” he says. “Now however, IT is seen as something that can save a company money and so an IT manager needs business skills.”

Elan’s Clancy agrees: “The IT department is now under much more scrutiny than it was. IT was perceived as something mythical by other departments that didn’t understand technology. The key problem was how did financial controllers account for IT and how could they measure its added value? Today, finance managers are much more in touch with the IT managers to find out what they are spending their money on.

“It is now much more likely that an IT manager will be in charge of a profit and loss account and this trend has been growing over time. While in the past the IT manager was more of a technologist, much more financial reporting is coming into the role,” he adds.

One of the big questions IT managers face today that they didn’t in the past, according to Clancy, is how much of the job needs to be controlled internally and how much can be outsourced. It is estimated that the market for business process outsourcing in Ireland will grow by 15pc year-on-year from 2000 to 2005.

But it’s not just a question of money. The IT manager will have to take account of how information gathered by, say, an outsourced helpdesk can be fed back into the company to give good business knowledge. “There is therefore a requirement for the IT manager to know more about the organisation and not just be a stand-alone provider of technology,” says Clancy.

But what is it like from the perspective of the IT manager? “I have to keep coming up with more and more fiendish ways to keeping things cheap,” says Colm Buckley, IT manager with NewWorldIQ, a company he’s been with for the last four years. “There’s a generation of IT managers whose solution to everything was ‘ring IBM’. Now you have got a very good solution if you did, but it was also expensive. I can’t do that anymore. IT managers have to take on engineering responsibility for projects and make sure that they are as cheap as they can be. It’s not that we have no money, it’s more that the shareholders are scrutinising expenditure more closely and want to be sure they are getting value for money,” he says.

The drive for value for money is leading to increased workloads for existing staff as numbers are pruned. “Everybody is asked to stretch,” he says. “In days of yore, you would have the classic manager who would just manage. Now IT managers such as myself have to do a lot of grunt work like fix people’s printers and so on. We don’t have the luxury of non-coalface managers.”

Buckley’s own employers, which has offices in Dublin and California, has reduced its total IT staff from eight to four. “That’s two for each office. Everything works but it’s a little scary sometimes. Again, it’s down to value for money. You have to get good value from the people you have. There’s no such thing as a simple skill anymore. You have to be conversant with everything. If you have the right staff it’s OK having only four people doing the work of eight or 10 but it gets a bit hair-raising,” he admits.

In the past, an IT manager who felt he or she was overworked could easily jump ship and often for better money, but the economic slowdown has put a stop to that. “IT managers are the hardest to place,” says Skillbase’s Rockingham. “Jobs are very scarce. Usually the attrition rate was 10-15pc but people aren’t leaving. The attitude used to be ‘I can get better money somewhere else’. About six months ago the attitude was ‘I have a job’, but now the attitude has changed again and it’s ‘I might be lucky to keep this job’.”

In addition to greater timidity on the part of those who have a job and don’t want to risk it, Rockingham notes that there aren’t as many start-up companies as in the past to provide new opportunities. Similarly, companies coming into Ireland from overseas, particularly the UK, are making the decision to manage their Irish IT functions remotely and not hire a local manager.

This has also put a stop to the rapid salary inflation of the past, but as yet there appears to be no global downward pressure on pay rates. “There are jobs out there that pay about €100,000,” says Rockingham, “but the average salary for an IT manager is now about €65,000 to €75,000.”

Buckley agrees: “Salaries certainly aren’t increasing but since the end of 2000 pretty much everyone has been on the same salary or a small in-line increase. Of course, in an inflationary environment, the value of your salary goes down. In some areas there are still skills shortages and in those areas salaries are fairly robust. But Windows administrators or MCSEs (Microsoft certified systems engineer) are finding they have to take large cuts because they are ten-a-penny.”