What is an IT Manager?

About five months ago, just before Christmas I started looking for a new job. I was working as IT Manager and find this type of role very enjoyable with the combination of strategic and operative responsibilities. I have a very broad IT background from smaller companies (<100 employees) with a focus on process development and automation.

For the first month or so I focused purely on applying for IT Manager jobs. Later I broadened my horizons to include System Architect roles, Requirement Analyst roles and Project Manager roles. This was for several reasons, one was that there are only a few IT Manager roles advertised at any one time – and that matched my salary expectations, travel time limits and required experience. Applying for other types of roles also meant more interview practice but more importantly that I would rather be in a job sooner and with the potential to advance, rather than later.

It turned out that IT Manager can be so many different things depending on the industry or just the company in question; from purely internal back-office IT management, to a more organisational development role, to product development. Managing the IT systems of a retail company does not exploit much of my experience from IT product management and delivery for instance, and the salary was, accordingly, not that exciting. But then again, I was more interested in moving away from tech stuff and working with a larger organisation that wanted to leverage outsourced, offshored and cloud services. More “what can IT do for you” rather than “what I can do with IT”.

So I applied for all types of advanced IT roles like architect and analyst, usually in bigger companies where it would be at least as challenging as IT manager in a smaller company (for which I also applied). Some sectors were just a no-go it seemed, the banking industry requires financial systems experience, government agencies want experience of working in the public sector and with public tenders. In short, the path to my next IT job was tough going. Every time I applied for jobs that were not exactly a match, there were always other candidates better suited and I never got an interview.

A changing role

The problem as I see it is that the traditional IT Manager role is changing radically. This is mainly due to outsourcing and pay-as-you-go cloud services. IT Managers need less technical skills and more business knowledge skills nowadays.  So either the IT Manager has to adapt or become diminished, as strategic IT decisions happen elsewhere. Either way this affects IT Manager salaries negatively.

At the same time there were oodles of consultancies looking for architects, analysts and project managers. So there is obviously work in this are and with the chance of a decent salary too.

Is there a connection between the two? I speculate that companies have access to more high-quality IT products than ever in a pay-as-you-go model that requires more analysis/architecture/integration expertise that classical nuts-and-bolts IT department know-how. That’s not to say that the IT Manager couldn’t do the job, it just means that as the use of IT grows, it is not increasing the status of and resources available to the IT Manager, but more the opposite.

Go with the flow

One of my principles as system integrator and IT Manager has always been to phase myself out by helping the organisation to help itself. It is the job of IT to help the organisation to become more efficient and to scale. Well maybe that is just what happened, so about two months ago I started contacting consultancy companies.

(In Sweden the consultancy market is very well developed. This is because Sweden has very strict employment laws but companies still need/want to be flexible. In my home country Ireland a consultant was always a specialist, someone you called in to do a specific job. In Sweden consultants (“konsulter”) are mostly manpower but there are of course still consultants that are specialists. More and more larger companies now have frame agreements with consultancy firms to provide resources at pre-negotiated rates. And sometimes it is hard for companies to understand why they must pay more for consultants because they are actually specialists.)

So, being a consultant will give me the chance to find out what the market for IT competence looks like nowadays, and to find out what my market-worth is. Consultancy companies can work in specific niches that are good to be familiar with. For instance ework and ZeroChaos function as de facto recruitment departments for some companies and are very good at pressing prices for consultants. Nox on the other hand work as an umbrella organisation for small consultancies or independent consultants and are working for them instead.

Polar Cape

In the end I ended up working for Polar Cape who rang me up and made me feel right at home. It is a small company but with colleagues with a similar level of IT industry experience. This is not as daring a being an independent consultant, but I feel I have a lot to learn about marketing/promoting myself and getting assignments as well as building my network. So now I have a chance to work with interesting IT projects in different industries while leveraging my broad technical experience and observing the rapid transformation of the IT landscape.

At a recent CIO Excellence conference, the final debate was about IT management’s role. My argument was that once you strip away all the back office IT management and maintenance activities, the company will still need IT governance regardless of whether IT services are provided internally or externally. Specifically, IT security will be a central part of IT governance in this future scenario and I am working towards a CISSP certification.

So what of the IT Manager? Well, as a consultant that has helped companies with their IT transformation process, I will be in a position to see whether this role still exists in 5-10 years time. Interesting times indeed.

More by chance

I have worked for more than 10 years with system integration and the development of business processes and I feel right at home no matter what the environment is. I get a buzz out of making the lives of colleagues easier when I save them a day’s work with a script or tool that they can use over and over again for instance. Now as an IT manager we can tackle bigger problems using full blown web services and more.

But what sort of problems does one encounter?

Business processes pervade the entire organisation so improvements can be made in all departments from consolidating system dimensioning and system costing to automating software releases and more. But even a product the company is trying to develop and sell requires proper lifecycle management such as packaging tools, streamlined installation, etc., etc. It all points to efficiency: well-defined business processes supported by tools that can automate as much as possible.

How does one identify a problem?

Sometimes the problem is obvious because one hears the complaints at the coffee break but more often people can’t see any problems or understand that it is possible to do things more productively and efficiently. An employee is often given one particular task to do: they receive some information, perform their assignment and pass on the result. Of course, an employee can become more efficient at their assignment but they are often unable to influence the quality and timeliness of the information they receive. This observation applies equally to non-technical (managers, sales, marketing, customer services) and technical (developers, testers) staff.

Is the solution for everyone?

I have worked in companies big (10,000+) and small (<10) and they have all benefited from improvements to their business processes. The solution will always fit the problem, small companies have simple business processes (agile or otherwise) that do not require much investment to improve or automate. Small companies also benefit greatly from having a system integrator role by allowing developers to focus on those first product releases.

After all this time it surprises me that I have met so few others in the software industry that work in this area or with these issues. One reason is perhaps that it is not one role nor is it limited to specific tools or programming languages. Rather than being a specialist, one is working as more of a generalist and this does not fit well with job vacancies which are usually looking for specific competencies. It is more by chance than design that I ended up on this career path, but once on it I never looked back. So I am going to explore those topics that interest me and as a goal see if I can’t make a good business case for some would-be employer.