Let’s stick with the topic  we took up last week of morphing job roles and the struggles of techies in adjusting to a more collaborative and business-oriented IT department.

There were plenty of constructive thoughts in your comments, and the subject also came up on a DM Radio episode a few days ago (The entire show is worthy but I suggest you listen to at least the first 10 minutes with Baseline's Evan Levy about BI roles and responsibilities). The topic also came up at our MDM Summit in Toronto the week before.

I did a bit of human resource bashing in the last entry, and remain convinced that a lot of work could be done to understand and invest in the skill sets of employees. The fact that this topic is so widely untouched by HR is less surprising than it is concerning. To be fair, HR is as harried as much as any department, so the fault really lies higher in the organization. But with the evolution of human resource information systems (HRIS) there’s so much more ability to gather and execute on information connected to skill sets and execution and evolving careers.

Too bad we can’t get there now. Franz Aman of SAP said on DM Radio last week that the more likely approach is for the business to set a methodology for BI or MDM and put the proper people in place accordingly. In the absence of a business-driven methodology to assess and retain the multi-skilled worker, “Everybody is going to be in charge of their own career so don’t rely on HR to know what you’re doing,” he says. “Especially in the context of BI and skill sets, which are huge hot opportunities, you have to look at the role you can play.”   

Krasen Paskalev, a solutions consultant at Ataccama Corp. refined this thought at our MDM Summit. “A key thing when defining an MDM program is to define how the organization will look after it’s implemented. What kind of competency center will you need to run it? It’s better if you can hire internal people alongside the system integrators and it’s extremely important to plug them into the process so you can operationalize the program after that.”

‘Curvie B’ commented on the last post to say it’s important for a hiring manager to look at the mission of the organization and the mix of skills sets involved. “You must have team members who understand the technology and can go deep, and ones who understand the business and the client and can build sustaining relationships. Look for the balance across your team based on the mission of the organization.”

What these comments tell me is that IT and IT-inclined business workers need to locate and socialize themselves with competency centers where they exist and the business sponsors of programs where there is no center of excellence.

For those out of work, social networks of associates and peers will play the same role working connections always have. “Not everything can be measured in terms of $$ saved or earned,” commented ‘Mary Grace Crissy.’ “Real world challenges today are complex because of the hidden unwritten business rules and relationships that drive behavior.”

Thank you Mary Grace. Some people think the millennial generation of IT workers will defuse this tension, but I’m not convinced younger workers natively possess the mix of business and IT skills we’ve been discussing. If anything, Web 2.0 technologies and iPhone apps have been making the consumption side of information management easier rather than more technical (which is where we’re all properly headed, by the way).

Aaron Zornes, the chairman of our MDM Summits, had some blunt advice for IT specialists around the common ground of data governance. “We’re constantly at risk of being outsourced or seeing the younger generation coming ahead of us in a second tier of pricing, so you really want to look at soft versus hard skills. Data governance can be very important to your career because it’s one of those things that takes very good communication and requires physically being there. If you are into regression testing or something that’s not a menial task but is labor intensive, stay away from it. It might be good now but you don’t want to be pigeonholed as a guru for a specific product.”

‘Prashanth M’ looked at the flip side of this equation “If we have 2 individuals, candidate ‘A’ scoring 9 in technical and 5 in soft skills and candidate ‘B’ scoring 7.5 in technical and 7 in soft skills, should we choose candidate B? True, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration when recruiting such as the nature/complexity of the job but as a manager how could I justify to the organization in picking an individual (candidate B) who is not familiar with the technology used in the environment?”

I hope questions like these are asked and measured every day against the aims of your organization, since the resulting equations will reinforce or refute old stereotypes of service versus business development organizations and the way those duties are kept in house or outsourced.

What goes out the door is not mission-critical. For workers, as Zornes alluded, skills that don’t require close collaboration and “being there” will sooner or later be commoditized to a second tier of employees or service provider, the hinterlands (or the gulag) for the sharpest analytical minds. 

It reminded me of the trip I took to Moscow five years ago where local developers stressed their liberal arts educations and emphasized their ability to convene and adjust to shifting requirements. They compared their skills to “the people who can build anything but fix nothing,” and, at the time, it was an obvious dig against India’s blossoming IT services industry.

But the same argument could apply today to any corporate IT department, and global competition is savvier than ever. As ‘Unknown’ put it in his comment, “It’s gotta come down to dollars and sense … this ain’t easy but you guys are smart, so get over it and figure it out. It’s not unethical, it’s business.”