Gartner's 2004 review of the year has predicted trouble ahead for chief information officers (CIOs), who will need to improve their business skills to become part of the board, manage increasingly difficult IT architectures and be much more forward thinking in their plans.
In the longer term CIOs must decide what kind of careers they want, opting for roles as long-term industry specialists or short-term change managers.
Gartner recommends CIOs to decide now on which career path to take, and to start investing in the skills to make the move before the market makes the decision for them.
The long-term trend to outsourcing will continue, but there will also be a move to insource some systems. Companies which do not plan outsourcing well are going to suffer systems failure and have no choice but to insource, the analyst firm warned.
"Despite the fact that IT is already a difficult enough place to work, it's going to get more complex," said John Mahoney, chief of research for IT management and services at Gartner.
"IT leaders have to shift away from technical skills towards relationships, flexibility and business processes. The bottom line is that you need a different style of IT leadership."
Mahoney explained that in places like France the majority of CIOs do not have IT backgrounds, and that future CIOs will need to boost their business credentials to match their technical skills.
He recommended that CIOs take on non-IT business projects to prove their credentials to the board, and hone their PR skills to promote themselves and their departments.
The fundamental problem is that chief executives perceive IT as a barrier, not an enabler, to growth, Gartner's research indicates.
The software industry is contributing to the complexity which CIOs are facing as it is increasingly trying to lock customers into specific software systems.
"We're moving back to the kind of constraints that people had to face in the mainframe era, when you chose your architecture and bought the whole package," said Mahoney.
"Complexity arises from the nature of change and the structure of the business. You cannot control a software ecosystem any more than you can influence the weather."
Overall, the picture for the next year is uncertain, both for CIOs and for business generally, according to Gartner.
"This is a more uncertain year for economic planning," said Mark Raskino, research director for business process at Gartner.
"Chief executives are going for growth and IT has to support that, but plans are subject to change because it's an unpredictable year.
"The probability for a worst-case scenario has gone up owing to things like confidence in the American economy."
One thing is certain: there will be fewer jobs to go round. Gartner estimates that by 2008 IT departments will employ half as many staff as they did in 2000.
Of the half that leave, 50 per cent will be re-employed in IT service industries, and only half of those jobs will be in a different geographical location.
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