IT directors face fight for staff

Motivating and retaining employees is the biggest concern for CIOs in 2005, survey shows

Motivating and retaining employees is the biggest concern for CIOs in 2005, survey shows.

Keeping your best staff and shoring up IT department morale are the biggest challenges facing the UK's leading IT directors.

Exclusive research for Computer Weekly among more than 100 senior IT directors at last month's City IT conference, revealed that 50% were worried about retaining staff who are central to the success of their business in the year ahead.

As IT departments battle with the pressure to do more with less and struggle to cope with tight budgets, maintaining staff morale is an equal concern.

IT directors in other sectors contacted by Computer Weekly last week highlighted the same concerns as their peers at CityIT.

Denise Plumpton, who chairs the Corporate IT Forum and is IT director at Sendo, said pressure from the business, combined with the prospect of outsourcing and offshoring was raising fear and uncertainty among IT staff.

"Cost pressures affect training budgets so staff can see their opportunity to respond to the technology change is diminishing.

"Couple this with the ever present trend in many firms and sectors - probably more so in financial services and FTSE 100 companies - to bring in external consultancies for the 'juicy bits' and you reinforce the desperation among your staff," Plumpton said.

Margaret Smith, director of business information systems at Legal & General, said one thing IT directors could do immediately was review the skills their departments need and the market rates for these skills.

"You can't just do [more for less] by making people work longer hours," said Smith. "It is about being more innovative about how you deliver."

She added that it was increasingly difficult to keep staff up-to-date with the latest technology. "You need to focus on keeping staff skills up to date as well as their general business skills."

Nick Leake, ITV's director of technology operations and infrastructure, also highlighted pay and benefits. "Incumbent managers required to constrain costs cannot match external offers and so lose their best staff.

"We need a more balanced approach to benefits, such as flexible benefits, training and e-skills, more performance-related pay and less expectation that staff will do whatever it takes to keep things going without recompense for all those extra hours."

Part of the motivation problem could be the lack of innovative projects which can win over staff.

Julian Hewitt, chief analyst at research firm Ovum, said part of the problem in motivating staff was the lack of innovative new projects. "So much of IT work is legacy maintenance, the number of new projects that can excite staff is diminishing."

Adam Burstow, IS director at financial services firm Telereal, said that despite potential recruitment difficulties ahead, IT directors should remain focused on finding people who can build bridges between IT and the rest of the business.

"You get the team right then motivation and staff retention flow from this. The IT team becomes high performing, gains the respect of the rest of the business, and so becomes a positive and enjoyable place to work," he said.

Government, universities and some IT employers are trying to address the shortage of skilled IT staff through the E-skills UK initiative. However, David Roberts, chief executive of the Corporate IT Forum, warned that it, "might fail to deliver against the issues arising in the next 18 months. There are a lot of IT people who will need to adapt to the new ways of working."

What drives financial IT?    

Computer Weekly will next week carry full analysis of the survey, showing the hopes, fears and IT plans of the City of London's leading IT directors and managers. Don't miss these exclusive insights into what is driving leading IT professionals in the financial sector.

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