IT job roles in flux thanks to consumerization

In the coming years, consumerization could bring serious changes to traditional IT job roles and IT department structures.

Consumerization won't just affect the tools and services IT delivers to end users. In the coming years, the trend is expected to alter the structure of the IT department itself and the IT job roles within.

Even the most forward-looking IT shops may have difficulty accepting the changes that consumerization imposes upon them.

IT can either evolve and survive or go stagnant and die out.

Brandon Porco,
CTO, of Northrop Grumman Corp.

Inventing the scientific future is practically NASA's bread and butter, but it took the federal government sequestration in early 2013 and looming budget cuts for NASA's IT department to embrace consumer services for its employees.

Consumer-driven IT opened a world of possibilities never previously imagined, said Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., during the CITEworld conference in early June. To manage that change, JPL needed to adapt how IT does business.

The lab built an "IT petting zoo" where it experiments with emerging consumer technologies such as 3-D printing, augmented reality and Apple Inc.'s iPhones and iPads that control robots. It built internal websites inspired by Dropbox, Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube for employee collaboration. It has even held crowd-sourced application-building challenges that are open to the public.

To top it off, Soderstrom said they have created new jobs and roles within IT, such as a Head Body Part Maker that oversees JPL's 3-D printer, specifically for guiding these new consumer-driven initiatives.

Departments will need to be agile and think outside the box despite the need for those traditional IT job roles. For example, it could be important to have at least one member of IT be a futurist or technology forecaster, according to Brandon Porco, CTO of Northrop Grumman Corp., a defense technology company based in Falls Church, Va.

"I don't know if there will be an IT organization in five years, or at least it won't look like what we've been used to," Porco said. "But IT can either evolve and survive or go stagnant and die out."

"IT is going to need people a little left-of-center to figure out new technology they can take advantage of to better enable the business," he added.

It's not enough to look at Google Glass and shrug it off or worry what kind of management and security software it will require. Instead, IT should look at Google Glass and imagine how it can be used by mechanics or field service technicians. Can 3-D printers be used to build parts rather than buy them from a competitor? Does it make sense to morph the help desk from an email ticketing system into an Apple Genius Bar-style kiosk?

What will new IT job roles look like?

Some have suggested organizations need new positions that can be phased in and out over time, like a chief mobility officer, within the IT department to aid in an efficient transition to a modern infrastructure environment. Other industry watchers believe IT will be more closely coupled with other departments, such as marketing or legal, which are by and large buying much of their own technology now anyway.

"Some companies will need to make a few small tweaks here or there to [their] IT structure in the coming years to deal with consumerization," said Dan Garcia, an enterprise architect at MassMutual Financial Group, an insurance company based in Springfield, Mass. "Companies will need to adopt more pervasive technologies to attract and retain talent."

Not everyone is convinced such sweeping changes will come to their IT department.

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"We're just trying to wrap our head around BYOD [bring your own device], so something tells me we're not going to blow up our entire IT department just yet," said a systems administrator at a Massachusetts-based energy company who requested anonymity.

The role of social, mobile and the cloud shifts IT departments to become agents of enablement instead of merely being responsible for keeping systems up and running, said John Mancini, president of AIIM International, an organization for information management professionals based in Silver Spring, Md.

It's the difference, he said, between a railroad company that takes passengers in one direction and a taxicab company that takes customers exactly where they want to go. IT is still the one driving, but it takes different skills to drive a cab versus a train, he noted.

Those new skills could potentially turn IT departments into more of a consultant role, said Mark Ridley, director of technology at reed.co.uk, a recruitment agency based in London.

"A lot of times people are doing their job in spite of the systems being offered by IT," Ridley said. "Can we be doing more analysis? Can we do more relationship management to give employees what they want instead of being bogged down by engineering? It's hard not to think about what IT's role in an organization should be going forward."

The tasks and the focus may change, but the structure will remain the same, said Raj Sabhlok, president of Zoho Corporation, a software vendor based in San Francisco.

"You'll still have an applications admin but instead of patching or updating software they'll be responsible for access, privilege and roles management," he said. "It's just a different way of delivering and supporting applications within an organizations when they move to cloud or SaaS apps."

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