It's clear that the 2014 corporate agenda will be dominated by the integration of big data analytics, cloud computing, mobile technology, and social media into the enterprise.
But the focus must not be on the technologies themselves. Everyone has access to the same systems and tools. The differentiator will not be the technology itself, but the business value it delivers -- or doesn't.
"The technologies are a side show to a lot of what's really critical," says David Foote, chief analyst at IT labor research and analyst firm Foote Partners. "It's IT's ability to do something meaningful with them that's important."
That ability to be transformational in getting the real business value out of technology depends, in large part, on having the right IT professionals in place. Niche technology certifications will not be enough. Nor will standalone domain or functional expertise. It's won't be about the ability to simply configure and run a server. Or develop software in isolation. Context will be king.
Employers will aggressively pursue workers with multi-dimensional talent -- combinations of technology, domain, business, process, and people skills, orchestrated in a proper balance to deliver specific solutions---which many traditional tech workers may not possess.
"It's about taking traditional IT roles and jobs and adding elements to them to produce more valuable, high impact players," says Foote.
It can be a specific combination of tech skills, like cloud administrators who possess a variety of different skill sets around systems administration, virtualization, storage and network administration, says Foote, or data architects who mix their traditional programming and analytical backgrounds with a knowledge of statistics and creative problem-solving skills.
"What might transform a Java developer into an über software engineer capable of developing really great e-commerce applications is the knowledge of social media, one or more functional business domains, and having a keen understanding of the industry and the customer," Foote says.
Here are five hybrid roles IT organisations will need to fill to stay competitive this year:
1. Enterprise architects who get the cloud
"Enterprise architects and their counterparts in applications, data, network, and security, and other functional areas perform work that has always been hot and get hotter every day," says Foote. "But there aren't enough good ones out there."
The best will be able to look into the future and figure out how to integrate cloud computing with in-house systems in a way that's sustainable and scalable. "More and more companies are starting to believe they shouldn't do anything unless they architect it first," Foote says.
Companies will need enterprise architects with a deep knowledge of public and private cloud computing in all its forms (platform-, software-, and Infrastructure-as-a-service) and an understanding of the relevant players and solutions.
"They need to be able to work with developers, engineers, and analysts as well as business and IT leaders to develop and execute a cloud strategy," says Foote, "How you go about architecting the technology versus just introducing it is critical to a successful outcome. Without that you're at the mercy of the vendors who just want to sell you their solution."
Most vendors are adding customisation options but they may not scale or integrate well enough. "Enterprise architects will be looking for smart purchases," says Foote. "They'll also develop cloud architecture principles and evangelise them throughout the organisation to help reign in purchases of shadow IT' cloud solutions with credit cards," says Foote.
2. Business analysts with integrated thinking
Business analysts have been around forever. But their role has never been more important. Companies are looking for "integrative thinkers," says Foote.
"They want not just analysts specific to various domains within a company -- finance, marketing, operations, logistics, sales. They also want them to understand, for example, how the cloud or data analytics strategy should work in the marketing department." The best of the best of business analysts today are likely to become tomorrow's architects, Foote adds.
3. Security professionals with marketing skills
With such high-profile horror stories as the Target data breach and concerns resonating from revelations about the NSA's spying program, you wouldn't think you'd have to sell the business on security. But you'd be wrong. "Security has been a hot area for a long time, and companies obsess about it," says Foote. "But they underspend horribly."
What companies need are not deeper technical security skills or yet another certification. "They want people who can translate technology risk to business risk, talk to business people about it in a way that doesn't alienate them, and persuasively present security as an enhancement rather than a hindrance," says Foote.
In short, they need a few good marketers in IT security. What CIOs and chief information security officers want is a legion of people who, "as I am talking to C-level management about security, are equally adept at speaking convincingly one level below," says Foote.
"They're looking for people who understand basic business concepts and can translate security objectives into language that can be digested by the people who control funding and resources, not more fear mongering."
4. Database pros to bring structure to the unstructured
Database skills are hot. Professionals who work with Cassandra, HBase, MongoDB, CouchDB, NoSQL and other big data technologies are seeing their pay increase by 7 to 15 per cent. That's well above average annual salary increases for IT workers.
Companies require database professionals for everything from master data management and predictive analytics to mobile applications and open systems development. But what they need are those professionals who can attack the unstructured data set.
"As much as 90 percent of data right now is unstructured," says Foote. "It's about how you create that structure to distinguish the signal from the noise."
And keeping these folks engaged is another issue. A company can steal someone from Google or Amazon for US$250,000 a year or more, but that person won't stay if the culture doesn't embrace the transparency, flattened hierarchy and data-based decision making required to institutionalise analytics.
"You can bring in all the experts you want, but if the environment isn't accustomed to easily sharing information and data, it doesn't matter who you hire," says Foote. "You need a culture that supports them."
5. Software engineers that do more than generate code
Traditional developers might be a dime a dozen, but true software engineers will deliver value to corporate IT. "They're not just programmers," says Foote.
"They have domain expertise. They understand how customers think. They think about how users navigate a Web site and purchase products and services." Such professionals will be in demand in areas including ecommerce, Web site development, marketing, and mobile computing.
Lowe's well-received implementation of six-second Vine videos featuring home-improvement tips (using pillowcases to organise sheets, how to remove stripped screws) was, in part, the result of savvy software engineers working in the background, says Foote.
"They started out as traditional programmers who took it upon themselves not just to program or develop but to bring business strategy into focus to create unique customer experiences." The best software engineers are well versed in business strategy, user experience, and customer intelligence.