How Mobile, BYOD and Younger Workers Are Reinventing IT
What it Means for Specific IT Jobs
So what do all these changes and a more user/business-oriented approach mean for traditional IT positions?
Helpdesk/support -- Helpdesk and desktop support will need to leverage additional forms of contact with users (chat, text, instant messaging); become more mobile (commercial helpdesk suites are now beginning to offer fully functional mobile solutions); provide users with background on their issues along with how to resolve or prevent them on their own; develop self-support solutions such as an enterprise support forum where users can help themselves and each other; develop processes that direct users to seek manufacturer or carrier response to problems with personal equipment; direct users in choosing company-appropriate BYOD hardware and software.
Network and infrastructure management -- With cloud solutions and Infrastructure-as-a-Service options, the role of the traditional network administrator, and indeed the traditional data center, will transform dramatically. There will always be a need for managing and building out physical network infrastructure, but it will need to include new service-oriented solutions.
Systems and device administration -- Even with a BYOD model, central management of computers, shared resources and devices is still needed, as are centralized directory services and user accounts. The difference is that beyond basic provisioning, the full-scale roll out and management of workstations and devices will fall away as the goal becomes more basic: securing company data on each device and allowing it access to resources. As with helpdesk operations, a shift to working with users to develop a collection of resources for best use as well as internal and public apps becomes an additional focus. There's also the potential for implementing and managing virtual desktop and cloud services.
Developers -- The big shift for developers will be the need to support a wide range of mobile devices, both in and out of the office. This may be as simple as providing a mobile version of Web-based tools or it may require a complete rewrite of current desktop options as native mobile apps. (That kind of complete rewrite will likely require serious rethinking of the software to best use the touch interfaces of today's smartphones and tablets.) A big challenge then becomes supporting a variety of device types and sizes as well as multiple platforms and versions of mobile OSes, particularly Android. Developers will also need to work with other staffers on Web, cloud or VDI solutions.
Trainers -- In many environments, IT training is minimal and consists of documentation for end users coupled with institutional knowledge. In today's world, training needs to shift from rote instruction to providing background information and identifying why core needs, such as security policies, are important.
In a mobile/cloud/BYOD environment, training is even more important because user education about the best tools, corporate security needs, and selection/maintenance of their own devices are key factors for creating an effective shared-responsibility model. Training should take advantage of every communication option available: guides, email, wikis, internal support forums, instructor-led classroom or telepresence initiatives, and one-on-one help. The broader the options and the more responsive they are to the needs of all workers (young, older, technophobic and cutting-edge power users) the better.
Trainers should be available as needed rather than popping onsite for a single class and then disappearing. Critically, training methods and materials will have to be continually evaluated and updated.
Security specialists -- The role of security specialists will continue to focus on areas like perimeter defense, identifying and dealing with compromised equipment, and malware detection/removal. It will also expand to securing vendor-based cloud solutions and employee-owned mobile devices and their data. Security solutions will need to become more flexible and account for user needs in developing an effective strategy. Again, user education is key.
Project management -- In some ways project managers have always held rather malleable roles within IT. By its very nature, project management is more about keeping things on track and on time, allocating resources and coordinating different individuals and teams than about specific technologies. Given a fluid existence to begin with, project management duties will shift with a relative ease to the new needs in IT: dealing with mobile options and deployment, interacting with end users to develop planning guidelines for new initiatives around mobile and cloud technologies, and assessing ongoing efforts.
That said, the role of project management is expanding, and related skills and experience are quickly becoming core requirements sought by hiring managers. As mobility management within an organization and mobile development for both internal tools and client/customer needs grow, there will be an increasing need for professionals with solid project management skills.
CIO/IT management -- Mobile and BYOD trends don't directly alter the duties of technology directors and CIOs. Even cloud solutions won't completely shift what a CIO does. However, those factors along with a growing technological competence by executives within an organization and the general state of the economy mean that CIOs and IT departments need to build bridges with management and end users. Ideally, that means IT partners with other divisions to get the most out of technology and enable greater productivity - a hallmark of the BYOD mentality - as well as take part in strategic planning.
New IT Positions
In addition to the changes in traditional staffing and job roles, the shifts in IT are already giving birth to new sets of responsibilities and job descriptions . Sometimes these are wholly new jobs, but they can also be expanded roles for existing positions. Some of the next-generation of IT positions include:
IT generalists and liaisons -- Individuals who have a keen grasp of technology and solid understanding of their industry will be highly sought after. They can serve as a friendly face of IT to users and other departments and one core duty is ensuring smooth IT experiences. Additionally, they serve to discover untapped potential, unmet needs, and problems (both business and technical) that IT can address. As ambassadors of IT, they can also serve as in-the-field tutors or mentors.
Enterprise/Information architects -- As IT morphs, there will be a greater emphasis on outside providers, a trend most notable when it comes to could and mobility management issues. The result: multiple teams -- internal and external -- that must be managed and coordinated and the need for someone who can meld these disparate solutions into a single vision of technology. Architects who can connect the pieces and projects and deliver services smartly will become a staple of IT teams.
User experience designers -- User experience design is a facet of Web and application development and it will become important to craft a consistent experience for employees as well as customers across a number of areas including the desktop, collaborative efforts, cloud services, mobile apps and Web services. Doing so effectively requires one or more people that are involved in multiple areas and projects. Some additional work may also involve developing training and other direct-to-user resources.
Mobility managers -- The phrase mobile device management is already giving way to the broader "mobility management" as it becomes clear that handling mobile solutions in business means going beyond basic device security and initial setup. Managing mobility involves devising mobile-oriented solutions, educating users, dealing with expense and risk management, providing a collection of approved or recommended apps, ensuring secure device access, developing and implementing appropriate mobile use policies, and cataloging and managing devices. That's a tall order, but it is crucial to a successful mobile and BYOD initiative. Add to that the speed at which the mobile landscape evolves and the need for IT to keep pace with the industry and one thing is crystal clear: there's a need in any organization for a dedicated mobility manager or mobility team.
Small and Agile Adapts Fastest
Traditionally, the IT departments of large enterprises have been better suited to tackle major shifts in technology because their greater resources allow them to test, purchase and deploy new solutions. In the past, smaller organizations with smaller budgets and fewer staff were slower to implement changes.
The shoe is now on the other foot. Small IT departments have a more cooperative culture and, more importantly, have less distinct separations between staff - leading to more shared responsibility and on-the-job cross training. IT pros of all stripes in smaller organizations also tend to have more direct interactions with employees. That means greater comfort and familiarity on both sides as well as greater understanding of what users need and why.
Clearly, there are challenges ahead for IT departments and professionals. In some ways the most difficult challenge isn't technical at all, it's accepting that the way IT has operated for more than a generation is ending. There are immense opportunities for organizations and individuals that can adapt to this new landscape. There are chances for IT professionals to reinvent themselves as well as the workplace itself.
But, there is no time to lose; these changes are barreling down the track whether IT managers or staff want them to or not.
Ryan Faas is a freelance writer and technology consultant specializing in Mac and multiplatform network issues. He has been a Computerworld columnist since 2003 and is a frequent contributor to Peachpit.com. Faas is also the author of iPhone for Work (Apress, 2009). You can find out more about him at RyanFaas.com and follow him on Twitter ( @ryanfaas ).
Read more about it industry in Computerworld's IT Industry Topic Center.