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Core competencies evolving

Published on Friday, 04 Jan 2013
Some tech sectors, such as data centres, need specialist IT skills and experience, making it hard to find the right staff.
Photo: iStockphoto

One clear sign of the local economy’s underlying strength is that companies are once again ready to invest in information technology (IT) and systems upgrades.

After budget cuts and headcount freezes, firms in many sectors are now keen to pursue plans on everything from network enhancement and data centres to cloud computing and social media platforms – and they have the money to do it.

Sharply rising demand for IT talent, though, is creating a problem. In certain areas, specialist skills and management experience are in short supply, making it that much harder to find candidates with the know-how to take the lead and deliver.

“The three most in-demand areas for recruitment are infrastructure, outsourcing and cloud-related solutions, such as IT service management and security,” says Francis Yip, area vice-president for North Asia at Verizon Enterprise Solutions. “It is a challenge because the sector is dynamic, evolving fast and requires people with relevant, up-to-date experience.”

Several factors are behind this requirement. Firstly, companies need the right network infrastructure to expand in new and emerging markets. Next, they want IT solutions which are agile, scalable and can reduce operational costs, perhaps through outsourcing. Finally, they know that “the cloud”, online sales and social media options will become increasingly important for their businesses over the next few years.

As a result, Yip sees a burgeoning need for solution and enterprise architects, consultants and managed-services sales professionals. Employers are also on the lookout for expertise in cloud migration, M2M (machine to machine), risk, compliance and security governance.

“Companies and jobs are transforming at an expedited rate. That means [candidates and] employees have to broaden their cultural and technical knowledge, besides developing soft skills and other talents, to remain competitive and ready for future assignments,” he says.

Verizon encourages staff to be proactive in managing their own careers. Since many IT firms are currently in transition as they move away from specialising in one area of technology to offering integrated solutions, increasing value is being placed on the ability to adapt, innovate and design tailor-made business solutions.

For staff in sales, engineering and management roles, communication skills are also vital to deal effectively with the technical and commercial sides of the business.

“Gone are the days of working in silos. To be effective, employees must be able to navigate and collaborate in a vast, virtual, matrixed environment. As companies go global, they want people who can leverage technology and social media, but who also have the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to interface with customers and co-workers from many different cultures,” Yip says.

Universities in Hong Kong generally give IT and computer-science graduates a good technical foundation, he says, though an understanding of how to apply B2B technologies to solve real business problems is sometimes missing. For this reason, Verizon’s “on-boarding” programme emphasises that success in any position requires commercial acumen and a clear appreciation of the relevant business challenge.

“Our approach to hiring in 2013 will be all about social media and building the brand across changing points of contact. Job boards and career sites will become less important as recruitment becomes a conversation instead of a broadcast,” Yip says.

Chris Aukland, regional director of recruitment firm Michael Page, has seen higher demand in recent months for systems analysts, software developers, SAP specialists and programmers familiar with Java and .net. He expects this to continue, as large organisations working on in-house development compete with IT companies and contractors for available talent.

Some employers, while not investing or hiring directly, are still creating jobs by teaming up with vendors, consultants and data centres.

For banks, this might be to move certain functions off the payroll; for retailers, to test and implement state-of-the-art point-of-sale systems. Regional offices, meanwhile, might want to set up outsourcing centres to handle back-room finance or customer service.

“Forward-looking management understands the importance of technology and sees the advantages of being at the front end,” Aukland says.

“The social media and online space is also creating a new set of ‘crossover’ candidates, people adept at coding or search-engine optimisation who also understand the marketing perspective.”

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