Knowledge of the organization can be invaluable, particularly when companies are considering making major system changes. "They may know a reason why things are the way they are, why a system was coded a certain way," says Gezinus Hidding, an associate professor in I.S. at the Quinlan School of Business, Loyola University Chicago. "Call it history of the company, history of the IT department."
Among Nemertes' clients, Johnson has noticed a tendency for senior IT pros, as they near retirement, to be reluctant to spearhead disruptive initiatives. "They don't really want to be starting this stuff from scratch themselves. They don't envy the young guys wrestling with vendors and suppliers," Johnson says. "They know how to do it, but their role here is to point out what's going to break, show why assumptions won't work. They have a very valuable role — but it's program management, it's not doing."
Planning for a changing of the guard and a cutover to state-of-the-art systems is, of course, easier said than done. Some companies are ignoring the aging Baby Boomers problem; others are going the poaching-prone knowledge transfer route; and others are opting to outsource and hand off their systems to a third-party, which can stymie innovation, Johnson warns.
"If you can set up something that's effective, you'll be able to handle the transition. But most companies aren't doing a very good job of it right now," Johnson says.
IT pros like the idea of succession planning, but execution falls short at many companies. In a survey by TEKsystems, 90% of IT leaders said succession planning is important to their organization's success, yet just 68% said their programs are extremely effective.
Part of the problem is that companies aren't thinking broadly enough when it comes to identifying which IT roles should have successors. In the TEKsystems survey, just 22% of IT leaders said their organizations conduct succession management planning for key line-level positions in areas such as security, engineering and development.
Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing specialist Modis, says corporate-wide succession planning initiatives will start to pay more attention to IT. "It's going to trickle more into the world of IT, because we have no choice," he says. "We're not creating COBOL programmers any more, but we're still running systems that rely on COBOL knowledge."
A strengthening economy will only increase the urgency.
"Because of the recession and market crash, a lot of Baby Boomers extended their careers. Now the market is recovering, they've regained some of their losses, and they still want to have time to be retired," Cullen says.
Flexibility is one advantage companies can use to keep retirement-ready employees from leaving.
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