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IT is evolving from a cost center to a service organization, and the roles gaining traction today reflect the expectation that IT provide measurable value to the business. Many of these new IT roles may seem familiar, and some of these examples trace their roots to well-established IT organizations.
If you're hiring new IT staff, or want to create growth opportunities for existing staff, here are some emerging areas to consider.
Specializing in the cloud
Cloud computing profoundly affects the way businesses develop, deploy and consume applications. A business can engage countless public cloud computing instances in a matter of seconds, or use software as a service (SaaS) applications without involving, or even notifying, IT. Cloud computing dramatically accelerates the pace of business computing, but also creates enormous potential for mistakes and waste if business leaders fail to select or manage cloud services properly. This drives the need for cloud computing jobs within the business to advise and facilitate the best cloud purchases.
Cloud computing jobs have several possible titles, including cloud technology broker, cloud integration specialist or cloud services broker. All of these IT roles share an interest in helping business leaders make the best technical -- and cost-effective -- decisions about cloud offerings.
For example, a cloud specialist might recognize that an application deployment would be more cost-effective in an Amazon Web Services Reserved Instance than a standard VM instance. Conversely, a cloud specialist might realize that the transient nature of another application is ideal for AWS Spot Instances, and can make effective bids for excess computing time. Other cloud specialists might recommend one version of a SaaS application over another because they understand how other applications access file formats, or that APIs of certain SaaS offerings integrate more easily with in-house tools.
Successful cloud service professionals are typically IT-savvy, providing a broad knowledge of internal IT and data center operations. But they must also have a strong business perspective, including knowledge of SLA monitoring and enforcement, as well as contractual and problem resolution.
Bridging the gap with big data
One of the biggest challenges for modern businesses is putting real data to work. Today's digital society makes it easy to gather or access enormous volumes of sales, scientific, financial, physical and other data. The business problem comes with figuring out ways to use vast amounts of data -- which is often unstructured and seemingly unrelated -- to drive real-time or long-term business decisions. This leads to a variety of new IT roles dedicated to big data tasks, merging technology with a broader base of math and business.
The most straightforward role to emerge from this need is the big data analyst, which bridges the gap between technology and business needs. A big data analyst not only understands the data and knows how to set up and perform big data processing jobs, but knows which business questions to ask and derives the best SQL queries to unearth results. Such analytical roles often go beyond an IT background to include strong statistical or analytical expertise.
A close cousin of big data analytics roles is the machine learning expert or cognitive systems expert. These roles include the ability to sift through and process huge amounts of data, and then use the results to model and drive evolving machine knowledge and responses. For example, a machine learning expert might help a company use big data analytics and behavioral models to identify weather patterns or cyberattacks. This is a sophisticated role, and so new that it's difficult to identify a typical skill set.
Of course, using data implies that you have that data in the first place. While there's no shortage of data, the Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect billions of new devices to the Internet over the next few years. This presents a potential for gathering unimaginable volumes of data from countless new devices. Each of these devices can typically communicate with each other and central repositories. But the complexity of IoT architectures is driving the role of IoT expert with strong cloud, network, data storage and protection, security, service and business skill sets.
Processing enormous quantities of data takes a lot of computing power, and this renews focus to server hardware and processor design choices. New IT roles in big data increasingly use the mathematical engines present in graphics processing units to offload heavy data processing tasks from a server's main processor to boost the performance of big data applications.
Collaboration and social media roles share a common goal: break down barriers and facilitate constructive and effective communication between employees, internal business groups, partners, outside providers and customers.
Successful collaboration professionals must possess a keen understanding of how people engage, communicate and collaborate. Those experts must then develop and refine collaboration and social media strategies that are tailored to the organization's particular needs, then select and work to deploy the collaboration and social media tools that will best accommodate that strategy. This might include selecting and managing internal wikis, moderating forums, driving social media groups, building awareness of communication and collaboration resources and opportunities and using analytics to measure performance.
However, these are challenging roles to fill because they pose requirements that aren't normally found in IT personnel. As a result, collaboration and social media professionals may be attached to non-IT groups, such as marketing or human resources, but may also report independently to a CIO -- or at least work with IT management to deploy and maintain communication and social media tools.
Protecting the data
IT security jobs have existed within IT departments for years. But the rapidly changing threat landscape, increasing number of exploits and severe implications of security breaches have raised the bar for security professionals. New IT roles can improve the security of corporate data and manage security incidents as they occur.
For example, a security incident expert is a first-responder that uses next-generation security information and event management and other security tools to compile event logs from disparate systems and apply analytical tools and machine learning systems to understand, respond to and mitigate threats. Traditional security tools like firewalls and antivirus software are often relegated to everyday IT administrators as part of the data center infrastructure, which allows incident experts to focus on continuous monitoring and analytics. These experts have a good data center infrastructure background with emphasis on networking, scripting, traffic analysis and access control.
Another growth area for IT security jobs focuses on methods and technologies for securing data at rest and in-flight. For example, a tiny but growing number of blockchain experts specialize in cryptography, authentication and distributed systems for highly secure financial applications like trading.
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