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Jobs for women interested in the IT industry need not mean only software programming. Opportunities in IT include business development, technology architecture and client management too.
Over the past ten odd years, I have met many women in the IT industry. However, despite the success being achieved, one thing stood out – confusion. Many women I met were not clear on the different career paths within the organisation and what growth path they can opt for.
These observations made me realise that most IT services organisations do not provide a holistic career orientation programs that help individuals map their career charts. With that in mind, here are the possible career paths in the IT services industry.
Businesses across industries require a tremendous amount of efficiency and automation in technology that drives their products and services. Examples of such services/products would include online banking and trading systems, e-papers, eCommerce solutions and mobile solutions among many others. Adopting a principle of quality and efficiency at a “lower cost” has helped organisations derive greater margins. The key factor for this growth has been outsourcing and/or offshoring of services to lower cost countries such as India. Companies like Mahindra Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant and HCL provide such services.
Over the years, IT services companies have stabilised their operations and developed mature operating models and processes in terms of organisation structure and associated service teams. A typical IT services company is divided into customer-facing business units (known as verticals) and niche technology units (known as horizontals). These units are enabled by support groups such as human resources (HR), Administration, Finance and Networks/ Infrastructure security.
Vertical units are aligned with Industries (e.g. Banking, Insurance, Retail, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Media, Entertainment, and Telecommunication etc.) and deliver services specific to that industry domain.
Horizontal units are aligned to a specific technology (e.g. SAP, Oracle, Siebel, Data warehousing, testing etc.) and cut across verticals to provide niche skills and expertise.
Career tracks span across verticals, horizontals and support units. Verticals and Horizontals are dominated by five overarching tracks – Sales, Account and Client Management, Project Management, Technology Architecture and Consulting/Business analysis. These tracks cater to each step of the software development lifecycle.
Initial sales and business development about a customer is carried out by the Sales team. Once a customer is won, the client relation and account management team steps in to develop a relation with the customer and manage the program. The Consulting/business analyst team then comes in to assess the customer situation and arrive at business/functional requirements for the project. This business documentation is taken up by the technology architect to design the final system. Once the design is finalised, the project manager steps in to deliver the developed system.
All of these roles are performed at onsite (client) as well as offshore (delivery) locations thus bringing to life the main USP of offshoring – “Follow the sun” approach for software development.
In support units, a fairly straightforward career track is followed depending on the support group. In the case of HR, an individual can opt for Recruitment, Training & Development, Talent Management or Corporate (define organisation wide processes and strategy). Similarly in Finance, one can align with payroll, mergers & acquisitions, corporate finance etc.
For any organisation to function and grow, it requires a dedicated team for mining existing clients for more business and working on acquiring new customers. There are different roles that can be taken up in this area –
Corporate marketing: This team works on developing and enriching the organisation’s brand value internally and externally with customers.
Sales: A team of sales executives are positioned in different geographies (onsite) to focus on winning new business. These sales executives are aligned with verticals so they can provide industry specific focus and expertise. The sales executive meets customers to obtain “Request for proposals” (RFP) and/or “Request for Information” (RFI) which are similar to a tender for new work. The executive works with the vertical teams at onsite as well as offshore to submit the proposal.
Sales Support: This is a predominantly offshore based team of business development executives and business analysts (BA) who support the onsite sales team. This team is responsible for coordinating within the vertical team and with horizontal teams depending on the nature of work/services requested for by the client. For e.g. if the client has floated an RFP for SAP implementation, the SAP horizontal will be contacted. Other than RFPs, this team does market research to gain competitive intelligence mines existing customer accounts to unearth potential business opportunities and creates marketing collaterals.
This career track is very critical for customer loyalty and retention.
Client Management: The client relationship manager is in-charge of the overall relationship with the customer and is the point of contact for any escalations/changes with regards to the partnership. Typically one manager manages different customers and comes with a background of account management.
Account Management: An account manager (AM) is aligned with the customer. Depending on the size of the business, a customer account can have one or more account managers. The AM is responsible for the day to day functioning of the account. S/he is the first point of contact for any issues/problems faced. The AM is responsible for communication management, strengthening and expanding business, revenue generation and invoicing. AMs usually come with a background of project management as it helps understand and deal with delivery issues better, however MBA graduates with significant amount of business development experience also take up this role.
This is a career track that is fairly new and seldom well-defined. The two areas are primarily different however there are certain overlaps due to which many IT organisations consider the latter as a subset of the former.
Consulting: An area that used to be alien to most IT services companies till a few years ago, this was a niche space that only organisations of the likes of Mckinsey, Deloitte, Booze Allen and Accenture would venture into. The main different between Consulting and IT services is that in Consulting the customer stakeholder is the business team and not IT. Helping companies analyse their objectives, revenue/operating models, product portfolios and recommending the right roadmap is what comprises of Consulting. In IT services; Consulting also means conducting IT application portfolio assessments, deciding on the feasibility to offshore maintenance and development, doing IT product evaluations/assessments and facilitating business requirement gathering workshops and exercises. In the area of requirement gathering comes the overlap with Business Analysis.
Business Analysis: As the name suggests, this entails analysis of the business need to arrive at the final IT system/product. A BA meets the customer, conducts interviews and brainstorming exercises and documents the final functional and non functional requirements for the project. The requirements document the BA creates is also the main input in creating the system design. BAs are typically positioned at the customer location for the duration of requirement gathering; often longer. Depending on the complexity of the project, BAs are also placed as offshore counterparts who help the onsite BA to document and the design and technical teams to understand the requirements. When BAs are not assigned to a project they assist in business development/pre-sales work.
Once the requirements start nearing completion, the Architect steps in to design the system and estimate the effort required for development. The Architect understands the requirements and decides the technology to be used, the high level and low level design, hardware needs and the infrastructure required. Architects stay abreast of technology news and updates and develop competencies in technology areas.
A project manager (PM) is assigned to a project once the deal is finalised. She devises the project plan and schedule right from requirement gathering through testing and completion. Tracking the project plan, managing slippages/issues and liasoning with the AM and project team at onsite are the PM’s primary responsibilities. In addition the PM also gets involved in account mining and any Business Development needs of the account.
Each career track outlined here are overarching tracks under which multiple skillsets are defined and nurtured. Primarily, individuals with MBA degrees start their career in business analysis and/or presales/business development. Graduates with B.E./M.C.A./B.Sc. and other degrees start with development and/or testing, which forms the basis for technology architecture and project management. Candidates from any of these tracks can opt for a career in sales, account management and client relationship management once they gain enough experience/expertise and demonstrate the ability to perform in these areas.
Like in any other industry, career choice depends on the individual’s areas of interest, aspirations and alignment with educational qualifications. In IT services, educational qualifications decide the initial phase of onboarding, however this Industry is unique to a large extent as many organisations allow a change in track during one’s career based on aspirations and ability to perform.
Take time to evaluate your career aspirations, the kind of skillsets it might require, and make an informed decision.
*Photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)
Seeta Bodke is a Business Consultant and Senior Manager from the IT sector. After spending
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