What Do IT Pros Care About? Spiceworks Execs Explain at ChannelCon

_DSC7928It’s not just technology, but soft skills that IT pros care about. This surprising factoid is courtesy of Jay Halberg and Sanjay Castelino, who spoke with CompTIA CEO Todd Thibodeaux in an executive interview August 2 at ChannelCon in Austin. They should know. These pundits are, respectively, the CEO and vice president of revenue operations and marketing for Spiceworks, which hosts a community of millions of IT pros with a marketplace of thousands of technology brands.

According to a survey of the Spiceworks’ community, the top five issues that IT pros are interested in include:

  1. Security.
  2. Virtualization.
  3. Networking.
  4. Project Management.
  5. Soft Skills.

“It’s interesting that two of the top five are not typical technical subjects,” said Halberg. Soft skills, he noted, are in greater demand as IT pros need to be able to educate business decision-makers on the needs for technology, such as security.

Perhaps even more interesting is that while more than half of IT pros (61 percent) feel appreciated for the work they do at their organizations, more than two-thirds (69 percent) said that to advance their skills they would have to take a job at another company.

Halberg said that’s likely because many companies still view IT as a cost center and not a business driver – a change in perspective that dramatically impacts and elevates the tasks that IT managers do every day. In general, their jobs move from a reactive, maintenance mode to a proactive, solution-oriented approach.

Retaining IT pros, then, means helping them to do their jobs better.

“IT pros have limited time and their to-do list is ever-growing and their need to absorb technology quickly is increasing,” said Castelino. “So, when I think about how to help them, obviously, training is a big piece of it. Keeping them learning and growing their skill-set is a big part of it; allowing them to do interesting things for the business.”

Castelino speaks from experience. Inside the Spiceworks organization, IT pros have moved from traditional operational roles to being more integral to running the company.

The channel can help IT pros, too, he said. “[T]here is so much technology out there that IT pros – when they are making decisions – need someone they can trust,” Castelino said. “They want someone that is going to shoot straight with them,” not push particular vendors. They are looking for people who can “be a partner with them in their day-to-day jobs,” he added.

Building trust also comes from giving IT pros the support they need. For vendors and solutions providers, that means providing technical resources. “No offense to our sales brethren in the crowd, but it’s about being connected to real-life technical resources,” Halberg said, noting that IT pros are saying, “‘Give me real technical content, cut the marketing fluff. Give me access to real-world people like me who have implemented technology.’”

A corollary to that is they want to consume those resources on their own terms, not on a sales call.

Moving forward, Halberg and Castelino believe that IT pros will be instrumental in driving software-as-a-service (SaaS) in their organizations. In a small department with two or three people, IT may not be involved in a SaaS implementation, “but if you want to scale it and make in an integral part of the business, absolutely,” Castelino said.

But IT pros’ roles have changed. Since all the hardware and software installation is offloaded, IT pros must tackle different problems, he said. “In many ways we’ve asked them to elevate what they’re offering. It’s not just ‘Is the software up and running?’ It’s ‘How does this have an actual impact on our business?’”

While cloud was once feared as heralding the death of the IT pro, it’s been just the opposite. Their roles have simply changed and become more strategic.

AI has now moved into the hot seat and is the subject of a similar debate.

Surprisingly, 70 percent of IT pros think it will help them automate mundane tasks while only 14 percent are concerned that it will replace their jobs, said Halberg. “So they collectively are optimistic about the capabilities it could do – whether that’s products they sell or consume,” he said.

Significantly, Halberg said 30 percent of IT pros expect to be working heavily with automation in the next five years. “When you get to 30 percent in five years, that’s really fast,” he said.

The optimism makes greater sense when you think about it in practical terms. “We could use things like AI to manage our day,” said Castelino. “Even as employees, it would just dramatically change how you work. That is a great reason to want to adopt it and faster than most people think about AI as a technology.”

IT pros will need to be there to help organizations leverage technologies like AI and whatever else is to come. “With a future that is a lot more complicated, it will create 10 times the problems and opportunities,” said Halberg, “and it should be exciting.”