Both Berwick Partners, and the wider Odgers Berndtson business, place real importance upon our regional UK presence, and recently brought together an impressive selection of the North West business leadership community at our annual Business Leaders Cocktail Event. Amongst many areas of interest at this event, guests were keen to understand more about the state of the regional IT leadership and technology market. Alex Richardson, a Consultant within the Berwick Partners Technology & IT Leadership Practice based in Manchester, offers his perspective on the market for key IT skills in the North.
Having experienced both the dot com bubble burst and the credit crunch driven recessions, I can honestly say the market feels very different now to both of those periods. In those recessions the blood-letting began almost immediately and continued for a sustained period. In 2001 it was focussed primarily in the technology and telecoms sectors, whilst other areas of business maintained steady growth.
The credit crunch period 2007-2010 brought instability across the board on a scale not seen since the depression, with contraction affecting all sectors in the region as a knock on effect of the financial and property market crashes. The North is one of the main UK centres for banking and professional services outside of London, and hence the technology sector here almost immediately experienced project freezes and postponements, job losses, and redundancies. In turn this led to a huge increase in the number of immediately available technology and project staff in the market, with a concomitant reduction in rates and salaries.
At present the mood definitely feels different; there is much more positivity in the technology market, despite the bad news from our friends across the channel. In fact I would characterise the discussions I’m having with IT Leaders now as rating somewhere between cautious optimism and outright bullishness. There is a distinct possibility, however, that the reason for this growth stems from the long period of under investment in technology. In the period 2007-2010 most organisations froze or reduced their IT spend. For those firms that have weathered the economic storm and are still in business, an investment in technology is long past due. Many organisations also now feel it is the right time to take stock of how their IT divisions are structured. Are the right pegs in the right holes, and indeed if changes in technology mean are there new holes that now exist?
Of course demand could also be driven by the fact that growing numbers of IT Directors and CIO’s now sit at the boardroom table. IT Leaders are using this better positioning and greater influence to communicate their knowledge of the competitive advantages achieved elsewhere through technology. Today’s well networked communicative IT Leader uses this knowledge to more ably argue the case for technology investments. That said investment budgets are not conjured up purely through clever boardroom argument. Increasingly savvy business leaders are also beginning to recognise that they must change, invest and innovate, and that technology is the chief means of enabling this change.