CIO SOS on Staffing


By Tony Kontzer

On the surface, the latest survey results from IT staffing firm Robert Half Technology, indicating that 43% of CIOs describe their departments as "understaffed," aren't exactly a shocker.

After months of budget cuts, layoffs, and general belt-tightening, many IT organizations are operating with staffs just large enough to keep the lights on, as the saying goes. Bad economy leads to smaller staffs--there's kind of a cause-and-effect thing going on there.

But if you read between the lines, there's a loud message in the findings, and it goes something like this: HELP!

What I get from that 43% is a multi-dimensional SOS call. What they're really saying is:

-The lucky IT folks who still have jobs are seriously overworked. Morale is in the dumps.

-Business leaders may have over-reacted to the recession with excessive staff reductions, and current IT teams are paying the price. -Although the economy has been improving ever so slightly, IT staffs aren't being rebuilt at the same pace. -IT project wish-lists are growing, and there aren't enough people to tackle them. -If the tight purse strings remain in effect much longer, business will suffer.

I could go on and on, and so could any of the CIOs juggling skeleton staffs. The question facing each of those CIOs: is anyone on the business side listening?

Clearly, they should be. An understaffed IT department is not part of the recipe for success in a time of economic recovery. This is the time when forward-thinking companies should be eyeballing an opportunity to jump ahead of the competition. Hard to do when you don't have enough people.

The key here is the language chosen. If a CIO is willing to describe her department as "understaffed," it implies that she doesn't have enough people. CIOs weren't asked if their departments were "appropriately right-sized" or "staffed to survive the recession." By characterizing their crews as "understaffed," they're making it clear that they NEED MORE PEOPLE. And this should set off alarms at a time when there's more IT talent available on the market than at any time in recent history. It's a huge opportunity for companies to shore up their IT staffs with high-quality people at bargain-basement prices. What's to think about?

The really sad part of this is that CIOs should never be able to characterize their staffs this way, because they shouldn't be hamstrung. They should have the power to make those staffing decisions themselves. They should be able to scour the marketplace for talent and snatch up folks who possess the skills and desire to provide competitive advantage.

All of this means two things: 1) Business executives need to hear the message and step up to the plate with additional funds for IT staffing, and 2) CIOs need to speak up.

Oh, and it probably isn't a bad idea for the legions of talented, unemployed IT folks out there who've lost hope to watch for clues as to which companies are understaffed, and start submitting résumés. With a bit of luck, and some good timing, they might find that the new year brings a change in employment fortunes, provided business execs and CIOs get on the same page.


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