The IT Market's Hot: How to Seize the Opportunity

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 09-20-2013
Figure, man, chart

The IT Market's Hot: How to Seize the Opportunity

By Marc J. Schiller

In “The IT Market’s Hot: What’s in it for You?”, we examined the overall trends in the economy and their impact on the IT marketplace. Net, net: The IT market, for both products and workers, is hot, and there are lots of new opportunities for professional and business growth.

The Mixed Blessings of a Hot Market

The hot IT market is all well and good if you are looking for a new job, but what if you like your job and don’t want to leave. What opportunities does the hot IT market hold for you? In fact, the hot IT job market might look like a disaster as you struggle to hold on to your best employees, many of whom are being enticed by new opportunities and increased salaries. This situation can be especially difficult if your employer is still feeling a bit shaky from the great recession and hasn’t jumped on the IT investment bandwagon yet. Naturally, that makes the grass seem a whole lot greener on the other side.

So, what are you supposed to do? Keep it a secret? Hope your people don’t find out about it? Clearly, that won’t work.

The challenge, and the subject of this article, is how to use the external market conditions to help you create internal growth opportunities—the kind that gives you and your employees incentive to stay put.

Start With the End in Mind

To get your company to invest in new IT-enabled initiatives, it will take two basic things: 1) The initiative or project has to be something your company genuinely needs and can benefit from, and 2) your senior management must be convinced that’s the case. So far, all of this is pretty obvious.

What that means practically is that you can’t just march into the CEO’s office and tell her about the overall business and IT investment trends or point out that the resulting hot IT job market is making it difficult for you to retain your best workers and expect it to have much impact. It’s going to take a little more sophistication (and data) than that.

Here’s what you can do.

Step 1: Reconnect With What’s Needed

You, and probably everyone in your company, has been heads down the last few years, tightly managing costs and holding on to customers. Who's had time to think much about IT investments? Probably no one in the executive suite, but, of course, you can’t help yourself. After all, as the individual that is charged with making systems work, you are always keenly aware of the shortcomings in the business processes (and the supporting systems) and you see lots of opportunities to improve things.

I know that I’m on solid ground here because in more than 25 years in this industry I haven’t met a single senior IT manager that didn’t have a long list in their back pocket of different IT initiatives that they were 100 percent convinced could move the business forward. All they needed was a budget and a willing user community.

Now is the time to dust off that list of IT initiatives and carefully review it. Reconnect with all the things that you were convinced in the recent past could make a big difference to your business. Take your list and sort the items into the following five categories of requirements:

  • To continue day-to-day business operations
  • To lower our daily operating costs
  • To be at parity with our competitors
  • To achieve an edge over our competition
  • To directly increase sales (be careful with this one).

You’re not quite sure where your set of ideas is in comparison to your competitors? That’s where step 2 comes in.

Step 2: Get Current With Industry Developments

Your back-pocket list is just a starting point. What you really want to find out is where other companies, preferably ones in your industry, are investing.

What you are looking for is a list of IT-related initiatives that your competitors have undertaken. And, if you are really ambitious, an explanation of why they have invested in those initiatives and the benefits they are hoping to achieve.

The IT Market's Hot: How to Seize the Opportunity

What you are looking for is a list with the following information:

  • Project or initiative description
  • System or technology involved
  • Names of companies investing in this area
  • Reasons for their investment, such as what they are trying to achieve
  • Investment amounts, including dollars, hours, people and duration.

I know that list sounds like a very difficult assignment, but that’s where the hot IT market can be very helpful. When IT investments start moving, people start talking. Vendors, in particular, can’t help themselves. They just love to brag about all the new great things they are doing at other companies in an effort to get you to also jump on the bandwagon.

But it’s not just the vendor community. Recruiters call more often and speak more openly about job opportunities and what stands behind them. Industry friends and colleagues that take new positions frequently talk about the new challenges for which they were hired.

With all these different people talking, the trick is to listen—and listen well. And the best way to listen is to not listen alone. Bring your people in on this effort. Explain to them that you want to improve your company’s competitive intelligence as a precursor to proposing new IT investments. Explain to them how they can use their personal networks to ethically collect this type of competitive intelligence. Help them understand how valuable it will be for your company to understand the overall trends in IT investment when it is supported by specific industry examples.

By involving your people in this research, you not only improve your ability to collect the information, but you also bring them into the investment discussion and teach them how to best support an IT investment request.

Step 3: Put It All Together

By the time you’re done with this preparatory work, you’ll have:

  1. General information on IT investment trends and IT skill shortages across a variety of industries
  2. A well categorized list of your best IT investment ideas for your company
  3. Data on the kinds of projects and IT investments your competitors are making and why they are implementing them.

Now, with the obvious caveat that you’re not going to sell management on a project your company won’t benefit from, it’s time to get into sales mode.

Schedule some time in an upcoming leadership team meeting to present a talk on “the state of the industry from an IT investment perspective.” At that meeting, share the overall market data and trends that are driving IT investments. Next, drill down to what’s happening in your industry, including how it is investing in IT. Make sure to keep the data aggregated and general at this point in the conversation. And when they ask you what’s driving all that IT investment, you reveal the detailed data they care about most: what your competitors are doing and why.

But don’t stop there. Once you have presented your competitive data, it’s time for you to present your analysis of what your company should do. You may argue for investments that are required to match your competition. You may opt for an investment that you believe will help transcend your competitors. Whatever it is that you want to sell, this is your opportunity to shine. Why? Because you aren’t selling IT projects, you are selling competitive positioning.

That’s It

That’s how you leverage external market conditions and information to create new opportunities for you, your IT workers and, ultimately, your company. It’s a powerful formula. Go for it—and let me know how it works out for you.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller has spent more than two decades teaching IT strategy and leadership to the world’s top companies. Through online courses, speaking engagements and corporate consulting, his company educates IT pros at all levels on how to be more effective, influential and successful in their IT careers. Get access to free videos and an excerpt from his book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, at www.marcjschiller.com/resources.