Harvard Partners is a Strategic IT Management Consulting firm. We are also an IT staffing and recruiting firm. It’s times like these where our practices come together and clients look to us for advice on who, what, and when to hire.
Harvard Partners recommends IT re-plan for activities between June 2020 and calendar year-end. From an IT perspective, we learned what we needed to learn during March and April and there is no reason we can’t reprioritize and reforecast.
As part of reforecasting, IT needs to examine current staffing and proposed hiring. As business “reimagines” how it operates, IT needs to rethink how it delivers creativity, support, and services to be in alignment with new business norms and expectations.
The end of Q2 (and for some, the end of their fiscal year) approaches on June 30th. CFOs have already starting anticipating cut-backs as economic indicators show rapid declines. CIOs/CTOs, who are probably coming off a “win” with successful work-from-home plans, need to get ahead of budget and staff reductions.
We believe there is opportunity for IT job seekers and companies in this market.
Current US Situation
As of May 3, 2020 over 1.1 million US residents have been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus and over 66,000 have died.
Stay-at-home orders are beginning to be lifted across the country, but businesses have a long ways to go before they realize pre-COVID-19 revenue levels. Industries such as travel, hospitality, entertainment, restaurants, local personal services (haircuts, tattoo and massage therapists, etc.), sporting events, and derivative industries such as airlines are in serious trouble.
Unemployment jumped from 3.5% in February to 4.4% in March and is expected to move into double digits for April 2020.
Without debating statistical specifics, I think we can agree things are going from bad to worse.
Harvard Partners has clients who are currently devastated, those that are minimally impacted, and shockingly, those doing better than before the Pandemic.
We are realists. We feel blessed when things are not bad and don’t impact us, but keep a watchful eye for what is happening to others. This philosophy serves us well and allowed us to prepare clients weeks prior to the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a Pandemic. I must say, we don’t mind the praise and accolades from executives and Boards when we get it right.
We like helping IT organizations modernize and help unemployed IT staff find new jobs. It is in our DNA. We have always lived by the adage “friends help friends,” so writing this article is as much invitation and encouragement for those fortunate to help those not as fortunate.
IT’s New Reality
While there are IT departments who are not impacted, the reality is IT will be asked to do more with less in a depressed economy. Business will be asking for innovation while they are looking for budget and staff reductions. This will be challenging for CIOs and CTOs.
For business leaders, it will be about lessons learned during work-from-home. For CIOs and CTOs , it will involve repositioning IT as businesses seek new opportunities or realign themselves with customers. Some CIOs/CTOs will lose resources, some will replace resouces, and some will find themselves having to rebuild their IT departments.
Lessons Learned in Two Months
Over the past two months, business leaders learned a great deal about their ability to recover from an extraordinary event. Traditional beliefs were shattered as people realized:
- Staff can work from anywhere
- Staff can be productive
- Business can continue and effectively communicate with clients, customers, investors, staff, and each other without having to be geographically proximate
- When trusted, most IT departments do the right thing and lower business risk!
We see a shift in executive’s mindsets as they begin to plan for the remainder of the year. Do they need more office space? Do they need to hire back people who were furloughed? Will they be able to sell into certain markets and do they need the people to support those activities? These, and many more, questions are being asked by CEOs.
Perspectives on IT Hiring
As line-of-business owners are asked to rethink how they do business, IT will be asked the same. In preparation we recomnend CIOs/CTOs consider the following IT hiring options.
1. Hire Temp or Temp-to-Perm
While we can speculate, we really don’t know what comes next. Temporary staff gives you the most flexibility, and will be more likely to get approved by those with financial authority. Temporary hiring allow you to focus on specific and immediate needs while you observe and plan for the future.
Temp-to-Perm takes that a step further. As you consider long-term needs, you can have the option of “try before you buy.” Having temp-to-perm options can be a challenge. Most job seekers want committment and stability. They need to be sold on temp-to-perm opportunities and recruiters must stay close to newly hired candidates to make sure they don’t leave a temp-to-perm position for a perm position at a different company.
The right recruiting firm knows how to manage the lifecycle of a job seeker and support them as they become productive in your organizaiton.
2. Expand your geographic footprint
Try hiring outside of your local area. Very few IT positions require on-site staff (if you require on-site staff for most roles, you need to rethink your technology environment.) Opening up a search nationwide gives you a greater pool of talented resources and will probably save you money.
Hiring outside of your area may leverage time zones for an additional 3 hours of support without moving to a multi-shift model. This saves you money and provides users with greater support.
3. Don’t waste a permanent position on something better outsourced
Embrace the reality that IT consultants and Managed Services Providers (MSP) can do things better and less expensive than your own staff. They come with greater breadth and depth in problem identification and resolution. Many commodity-type roles (e.g., server, email, network, storage, programmer, help desk, security operations, etc.) or those you might only need once for a project (e.g., project manager, cloud architect, Office 365 migration, cloud or data center migration, etc.) are better outsourced.
I get push-back when I mention roles like cloud-architects. IT managers don’t always understand a movement to the cloud should include changing “IT DNA.” Should IT have architectural skills, of course. Should they be so focused, no. We recommend in investing in solutions architects rather than architects dedicated to one specific technology.
There are significant cost savings when you only require specific skills for brief points in time. I am amused by clients wanting to hire an expert with Office 365 migration skills when it will only be a one-time event. Only consulting firms require people like this on staff.
4. Use permanent positions to focus on long-term, high-value, business transformation activities
In the prior bullet we discussed where not to use permanent positions. Here we offer observations where permanent staff make the most sense. Broadly speaking, we believe most infrastructure can be well documented and supported by non-permanent staff. Leveraging institutional knowledge, as it relates to delivering direct business value and understanding company culture are the most important permanent positions. These include (not an exhaustive list):
- Business Analysts, Systems Analysts and those who define and understand how applications work and deliver business value
- Solutions Architects and anyone involved in defining and understanding how systems integrate with each other and are depenent on each other
- Deskside Support, Concierge Support and anyone involved in creating, managing, and supporting the user experience
- Application Developers, Database Administrators, Data Scientists, Report Writers and anyone skilled in understanding how data is acquired, used, transformed, shared, and protected.
- Production control staff who holistically understand how data processing occurs in an organization
- Cybersecurity and Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery leadership
5. Stop wasting time with traditional recruiting
The most valuable resource you have is time. Traditional recruiting (in-house or staffing agency) is a numbers game when it comes to resumes. The more resumes, the more likely you will find a winner. This becomes more wasteful as unemployment grows.
Work with recruiters, like Harvard Partners, who have the skills to reduce “candidate noise” and work more like Executive Search firms, with robust candidate qualification and validation than staffing agencies. Be careful when selecting a recruiting firm and make sure they are working for you and not just for themselves.
6. Evaluate IT staff
Stop playing the game of simply adding staff without looking at performance, redundancy, and outdated skillsets of existing staff. Take time and assess staff making sure you are positioned correctly for future success. Doing more with less requires an exceptional team.
As it relates to people, we start by interviewing consumers of IT services (users), providers of IT services (IT and Managed Services Providers), and funders of IT services (CEO, President, CFO, COO, CAO, Boards, etc.) Working with the CIO/CTO we use the chart above to measure staff based on Potential and Performance. Finally, we look for gaps and identify weaknesses. The results usually involve reallocation, retraining and, sometimes, replacement of existing staff.
7. Develop a staffing plan to meet businesses new reality and CFO’s need for cost savings
We are entering a period where everything is unknown, companies are reacting, and demand for IT services is high.
This is where CIOs/CTOs need stop being technologists and become strong business people. Getting out in-front of issues and opportunities, demonstrating thoughtful planning with facts and data, and producing a solid delivery and staffing plan will help IT, both now and in the future. Suggested elements of a staffing plan include:
- Business/User/Customer needs – What has changed from a business perspective?
- What is required of IT to react to these changing needs?
- How is IT positioned today and where does it need to be positioned in the future?
- What tradeoffs are you willing to make in order to go from your “as-is” team to your “to-be” team?
- Have you considered alternative staffing options (e.g., contractors, temp-to-perm, remote, less expensive hiring, and Managed Services)?
We like to talk about “coins in the bank.” When we do something good, we add “coins to our bank account” with clients. When things don’t go well, coins get subtracted. With the recent move to work-from-home, IT added coins to the bank. Following up with a robust staffing plan and demonstrating precision delivery skills will allow IT to parlay those coins into bigger wins. IT needs to move past its own limitations.
Now is the time for IT leaders to take their seat at the table, behave like sophisticated business people, sell company management on a new IT staffing plan, and play an active role in transforming business to survive this Pandemic and be positioned for future success.