I was reading Chris Murphy’s article in the Global CIO section of  Information Week called “Is Everyone an IT Worker Now?”  In the article,  Chris was commenting on a recent report  prepared by Foote Partners,  a leading IT analyst firm.   David Foote , the author of the report,  believes that the IT Classification used by the  U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is outdated and significantly underestimates the number of IT workers in the US.  As an example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a total of 4 million IT professionals but  David Foote believes the number is closer to 20 -25 million.   The substantial difference in the numbers is due to what David Foote calls  ”antiquated definitions of IT jobs” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a great article and I encourage IT  leaders and managers to read it because it draws attention to a trend that I believe is gaining traction and will continue to do so at record speeds within the years to come.  It has to do with the blurring lines or fuzziness that is taking place between IT employees and your average, everyday business professional working in organizations today.   Over the years, IT Departments have faced incredible pressure to make their technical staff understand the business.  We’ve heard the term “aligning IT with the business” for decades now.  Great inroads have been made by CIOs and their teams in this area and Chris Murphy gives examples of IT Departments in companies that have done that well.

Lately, I’ve become more intrigued about the other side of the Business-IT alignment equation.  As IT professionals have slowly begun to understand the business, so too, has the business begun to understand IT.   Years ago, I remember it was extremely difficult to find employees in business functions who had technical expertise. In fact, those of us who have been in IT for some time can remember our user community often telling us “I don’t know anything about technology” or “I’m not an IT expert”  or “I’m not good with computers” or some version of that.  To me, that was always the secret code warning us that they: were not going to embrace technology; saw technology as making their job harder because they needed to learn it and; were going to go kicking and screaming into a world where their business function had a technology component to it.

Although there still may be some remnants of that type of employee left in some organizations, the fact is that business folks have taken great leaps in embracing technology.  There are 2 specific factors that I believe will continue to make it very difficult to classify an IT worker.  IT has always been considered a separate, stand alone  function in organizations similar to HR and Finance.  In the past, it was understandable  because the technology was not easy to navigate and not all that intuitive.  You needed to be trained  in specific technical areas to be able to use the technology in question. But technology has taken gigantic steps in many areas and has become very user friendly and easy to use. The consumerization of IT and its ease of use have contributed to the first factor making it difficult to classify what an IT worker is.

The second factor is the one I believe will significantly blur the line even more in years to come. It is the fact that the younger workers have used technology practically since birth.  They come into the workplace not only embracing IT but demanding it.  I’ve blogged about this trend several times over the last few months.  As I observed Millennials and spent some time shadowing them in the workplace, one of the things that struck me the most was how Millennials in other non-IT teams were so tech savvy.  As I discovered there were many reasons for this. For example, some had been put “in charge” of technology in their homes as their parents invested in home networks or a neighbor contracted them to build a website for their home business or they worked in the IT lab at their universities.

The point is that Millennials don’s see technology as a differentiator.  For them, technology is a way of life, not something you learn or add on to your resume as a skill. As more of them enter the workplace, they will blur the line between what an IT worker is and someone in a business role.   Although there will still be a need to classify an IT worker in the future, the skills will be much more complex, highly specialized and advanced.   To me, this would mean IT classifications would shrink rather than grow since some of the skills we consider IT- related today may become mainstream in the future.

As future generations enter the workplace, the line will blur even more to the point that they are no longer perceived as IT skills per se.  The Millennials are simply the first generation blurring the lines and making IT  fuzzy.  As they blend their IT skills with their business skills they force us to question our legacy beliefs and definitions.    One more example how leading and working in the 21st Century is about experimenting and going beyond our comfort zones.

So how fuzzy do you think IT has become and how fuzzy will it get in the future?