Microsoft Q&A: What the new government could mean for IT staff

Phil Cross, Microsoft UK's professional audience manager, looks forward to life under the coalition government as the recession comes to an end,

Phil Cross, Microsoft UK's professional audience manager, looks forward to life under the coalition government as the recession comes to an end,

Q: What impact is the new government likely to have on IT recruitment?

The first, and obvious, thing to say is that it is good to have a government in place now, as this brings essential stability to the country and financial markets.

There was a lot of anticipation around what a hung parliament might mean, and from what I hear from the IT community, it seems many people are still waiting to see how effective and efficient the new coalition will be.

From my experience and generally speaking, IT people approach change with a logical and rational head. Most IT people are used to being involved with major business change projects, so they are used to it!

There are concerns out there about the impact of cost reductions - particularly from those working in the public sector.

In some senses, the IT industry is no different from any other industry in that it has been affected by the global downturn and this remains the primary concern. So while the recovery has started, it will take time to get back to full strength and the full extent of any potential cost reduction measures that may be implemented will need to be taken into consideration accordingly, so 'cautious optimism' seems to be the order of the day.

In relative terms, having a stable government and a stable, recovering economy can only be good for the country and IT professionals generally. Will this have an impact on IT recruitment? One would hope so. A healthier economy driven by strong leadership can only be beneficial and support business growth, which in turn fuels investment in IT and thereby the need for more talent in the industry.

Backing this up, according to the e-Skills UK report on IT Technology Growth the IT industry is likely to welcome nearly half a million new professionals over the next five years, which would indicate steady recruitment into our industry.

Q: What skills should IT staff be investing in or looking to develop?

One of the great things about working in IT is the variety that comes with the career. At Microsoft, we recently conducted a survey called 'I ♥ IT' which asked 200 IT professionals in the UK to talk about the things they most enjoy about their jobs and about technology in general.

When asked what they most like about working in IT, the vast majority (65%) cited "always something new to learn" as the best aspect of their role. It would appear that IT people love to learn, so the question around new skills is a good one.

Taking a look at where new technologies are predicted to take hold and be adopted in UK businesses is always a good place to start. In its latest report on the 'Top Ten Strategic Technologies for 2010', Gartner points to cloud computing, virtualisation, advanced analytics, the datacenter and mobile application development as some of the key areas for organisations to review and begin working with.

Another good place to look when thinking about the skills IT staff could need in the coming years is through the opinion of one's peers.

We asked the same 200 IT professionals which projects they are most looking forward to working on in the year ahead, and interestingly their responses very much correlated with the technologies identified by Gartner, with virtualisation (32%), mobile (31%) and cloud (25%), being the large projects that people are most looking forward to getting their teeth into (and skilling up around) in 2010 and beyond.

Q: How can IT professionals use the change in government to their advantage?

That's an interesting question. I don't think I can answer how an IT professional might benefit from this specific change in government. Without seeming trite, I think that change by its very nature creates potential opportunity, and challenges of course!

Once again, I come back to the fact that we now have a government in place, combined with a seeming return to recovery. In light of these important and positive changes, I would suggest and hope that IT professionals are now able to push ahead with projects and investments that have been on hold, and once again play a proactive role in helping to transform and contribute positively to business.

Our research shows that IT people really do love their jobs (some 81% against a national job satisfaction average of 42%), often mainly because they feel they are contributing and helping to transform the way people work and the way business is conducted.

On the flipside, they say that fire-fighting and working with old technology (34% and 23% respectively) are the things they like least. I think a key 'advantage' for IT professionals in the coming months will be a return to projects focusing less on cutting costs and making do with what you have, and more on delivering new value back to the organisation.

Q: What advice could you give to any public sector IT workers for the years ahead?

The key bit of advice I would give IT workers in the public sector would be to focus more on outcomes, rather than getting caught up in the details of the tools and technologies that might be required than trying the latest products to solve the overall bigger IT picture.

They will have to adopt the right approach to cost containment, thinking about self-funding architectures rather than simply what savings can be made. This is about thinking for the long term and putting themselves in a position to make sustainable savings, rather than simply thinking about quick hits that adversely affect services.

If they can do this they will be able to create a thinking space that will enable them to focus on the outcomes they want rather than just running into projects with armed with specific technologies looking for answers.

Public sector workers will have to shift their focus to the solutions that are unique to their specific departments in order to get the best results and not get caught up in the product when the principles and outcomes of projects are the main goal.

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