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12/9/2009
08:19 AM
Chris Murphy
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Global CIO: General Motors CIO On 4 Essential IT Skills

He'd like to hire people with all 4 into the new GM. But how can IT pros get this broad experience?

When InformationWeek met with General Motors' IT leadership recently, CIO Terry Kline laid out four broad skills he thinks a well-rounded IT pro should have. His thinking shows that deep tech chops still are highly valued. Yet the road looks tougher than ever to become this particular kind of IT superstar.

"I've always broke IT into four areas," explains Kline. Those areas are:

1. Software development: You've written code.

2. Operations: You've backed up servers, installed operating systems, reloaded a router. Bottom line: "You know how to keep the lights on," Kline says.

3. Architect: You know how to do jobs such as put in multiple servers with high availability and failover, you know how to deal with volume shadowing, you understand when it's best to stripe and disc and not. Etc.

4. Databases: This factors into all the others, but Kline makes it its own category to settle the argument over which one it goes in.

Kline figures it takes about 15 years to gain sufficient experience in all four disciplines. He'd like to bring more of those people into the new GM. Says Kline, who took over as CIO in October:

"Individuals that have spent time in all four areas are highly valuable. They work really well in our outsourced model--mostly because most people in IT have not worked in all four areas. If you have someone who's written code, who's worked in servers, done architecture, who knows something about databases -- they're a very valuable asset. They're good mediators, too."

Understand, GM is one of the most outsourced IT organizations in the world--90% of its IT is done by IT service providers. A company with more than 200,000 employees, it has about 1,500 full-time IT employees. Kline's not changing that outsourced model, but he's looking to bring in a small number of these more all-purpose IT pros.

These people thrive, particularly in an outsourced IT operation, because they can broker between, say, the app dev and data center operations teams if they can't agree on what's causing a problem. They can't be buffaloed on the technology. Perhaps just as important, if there's an emergency, they can be the paramedic--fix a problem well enough that the patient survives until there's time for a specialist to do a more elegant repair.

Two things strike me about this kind of IT superstar.

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One is what a premium it puts on pure tech chops. At a time when we hear about technology being a commodity, about business units self-provisioning from the cloud and working around IT, about IT pros chasing hot skills to stay ahead of offshore outsourcing, this view puts a premium on hands-on, broad-based, operational IT skills.

Two is how hard it will be for IT pros to develop this portfolio of knowledge.

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