Another jobs report has confirmed a trend recently identified for information technology and data science – IT departments are slowing their growth, but there are plenty of opportunities for data analysts and IT security professionals.

That is the conclusion of the new study from Computer Economics “IT Spending and Staffing Benchmarks 2017/2018” – which finds that fewer than half (49 percent) of all companies are planning to increase IT headcount. This is an improvement over 2016 (46 percent) but a small drop from 2014 and 2015, when 52 percent and 50 percent of respondents, respectively, were adding to IT staff counts, the study notes.

“IT operational budgets in 2017 are growing modestly, but that growth is not being mirrored in IT staffing levels, which are essentially flat at the median,” according to Computer Economics.

The shift to software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud infrastructure, virtualization and the automation of routine IT activities is enabling IT departments to increase service levels without adding staff. Still, only 20 percent of IT organizations plan to reduce headcount, “and we do not see widespread layoffs of IT personnel on the horizon,” the study says.

There is some good news on the staffing front in the report.

“While hiring is slowing for lower-level skills such as computer operations, scheduling, and lower-level tech support positions, higher-level skills show increasing demand. Examples of those jobs in higher demand include business analysts, project managers, data analysts, and IT security professionals,” according to Computer Economics.

As cloud applications and cloud infrastructure take up a larger percentage of IT spending, there is also a greater need for IT staff with skills in procurement and vendor management.

"As the cloud shifts hiring priorities, IT professionals need to be upgrading their skills," said Tom Dunlap, director of research for Computer Economics. "Fortunately, the cloud makes it easy to get those skills, whether by setting up a virtual server on Amazon Web Services, or by developing a new app on one of the cloud platforms, like Salesforce's."

The IT staffing mix continues to change, the survey finds.

The largest portion of IT staff, as in the past, is dedicated to application development, accounting for 16.8 percent of the typical IT staff.

The next largest group is IT managers, with 11.6 percent, followed by desktop support workers at 10.3 percent.

Application maintenance/support has now reached 9.9 percent of the staff.

While application developers and maintenance workers continue to grow, server support headcount has seen a steady decrease in the last six years, from 12.1 percent of the total IT staff in 2012 to just 8.1 percent this year. The study attributes this decline to several factors, including “increasing use of virtualization and automation tools that improve data center staff productivity, as well as the shifting of data center workloads to the cloud.”

More evidence of the declining importance of data center skills can be found in the overall IT spending mix. The survey shows that IT executives are investing more of their budgets in business applications, networking, security, and end-user devices. Data center spending is not much of a priority at all, with only 9 percent of IT departments planning to increase spending in this area.

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