Finding the new breed of network manager

network careers Network managers should now combine voice, data and IT support

Network managers should now combine voice, data and IT support

There are not many job advertisements for network managers these days. Not because the jobs do not exist, but because the scope and title of the role has changed over the past few years.

"The title is on the wane and it is being replaced by IT director," said Dominic Hewson, IT manager for the UK and Ireland at communications provider Avaya. "If you look at job sites the jobs are out there, but I do not think it is a title you find regularly in the marketplace."

IT manager, infrastructure manager, service delivery manager, systems operation manager, technical service manager - all these titles are now being given to someone in charge of the network.

Some SMEs still use the term network manager, as do some very large companies such as banks, but the majority are dropping it.

The reason is that networks have become mainstream and integrated with the rest of the IT department and the company. Not that the role has been downgraded: networks have become increasingly important to business along with experienced network people with the relevant skills.

The convergence of voice and data has blurred the boundaries between network professionals and standard IT professionals.

"You always used to have a voice manager looking after the telephone systems and an IT manager looking after IT," said Hewson. "Telephony is now being integrated and the IT director is the single point of contact in terms of voice and data."

He believes processes and management need to be streamlined in order for companies to achieve maximum performance from their networks. "In my opinion, in every big company there has to be someone solely responsible for the network and all the support, maintenance and development that goes with it.

Business needs to have a single point of contact.

"Companies that stay with multiple IT owners, compartmentalising IT into voice, data and IT support, lose the focus on what they are trying to achieve. That is why you need to cut out the middle layer of managers and have one focal point of contact."

Some former network managers, such as Jonathan Allen, who is now the converged services team manager at financial services company Capital One, found that their job title changed when voice and data applications came together.

"I used to be the network manager when we had a network team and a separate, dedicated non-call centre team," he said. "Then we rolled out voice over IP and I became the converged services team manager."

Good network managers are well placed to take the hotseat when this convergence happens. Networks have become a critical business driver and so it is important to have someone who understands its potential.

However, this does not mean that hardcore technical skills are required.

"You do not have to be a seasoned techie," said Terry Watts, chief executive at training organisation E-Skills UK.

"You need to have some technical understanding, but it is more important to have good techies around you than to be one yourself. Technical knowledge can sometimes be a hindrance because you can get stuck on detail."

Like any departmental leader, the head of the network needs to have a strategic overview and avoid getting bogged down in the day-to-day minutiae.

IT management roles have changed substantially over the past 10 years and strategy, management and business nous are now the required skills.

Strategy and business awareness are crucial to fully realise the potential of a network and to align it to business needs.

Allen said his role is primarily about helping employees to achieve maximum business productivity through best deployment of the network. "It is all about the fact that you have spent millions of pounds on infrastructure, and so you need to get productivity out of it," he said.

"I am constantly looking at what is going on in the industry to deliver what the business needs and to increase productivity, such as making Capital One staff mobile. It is about more productivity, lower costs and getting more out of what you have."

Communication and management skills are essential because the person in charge of the network not only has to manage the IT department, but also a fleet of other internal and external business players.

Experience will be needed in managing customers, governance bodies or suppliers, of which there will be many in a large corporate network.

Also, in larger companies, there is a chance the workforce will be geographically dispersed, making the the ability to manage remotely equally as important.

Network managers, IT managers, whatever they may be called, need to be able to articulate and communicate their vision and execute it in terms that business people can understand.

Security issues also have to be at the top of every network professional's agenda.

Julia Smith, business systems director at recruitment agency Tac Europe, thinks there is a strong requirement for people with good security awareness.

"Every one of the jobs we have here involve network security and disaster recovery," she said. "Network managers need to have had exposure to security issues."

It sounds like a lot, but network managers have always been well remunerated for their talents.

The median salary, according to the Computer Weekly/SSP survey of recruitment trends in January 2003 and the National Computing Centre's Salaries and Staff Issues in IT 2003 report, ranges between £30,000 and £67,000.

Salaries can climb as high as six figures for the top jobs in prominent global companies, said Watts, indicating how highly companies value people with top-level network management experience.

In fact, the only real threat to the ascent of corporate network managers is the increasing prevalence of outsourcing.

Network professionals need to get plenty of strategic and business exposure to keep their skills marketable.

Skills needed

  • Management skills
  • Business understanding
  • Communication skills
  • Technical awareness, including exposure to networks
  • Experience of handling large budgets
  • Knowledge of security issues and data recovery.

Earning potential

Anywhere from £30,000 at the bottom of the pile to £100,000 plus for the top jobs.

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