Organizations of all sizes have come to rely on information technology for nearly every facet of their operations, from internal resourcing to customer support and beyond. And while the digitization of modern business practices has been positive for most companies, it also comes with a variety of technical challenges. For one, managing a large network of interconnected systems and devices requires a workforce of knowledgeable IT professionals who have the right set of skills and professional experiences. Because of the high demand, many organizations are struggling to build truly sustainable IT departments. One study conducted by KPMG found that 65% of surveyed technology leaders believe that hiring challenges are hurting their industry, representing a six-point increase from the previous year.
Although these types of staffing issues are causing problems for modern businesses, they also offer computer science experts plenty of opportunities to advance their careers. Locating qualified candidates for entry-level positions is relatively straightforward, but filling high-impact positions like IT director can take time and effort. What do IT directors do and what types of qualifications are needed?
IT director roles and responsibilities
Information technology directors play an essential role in their organizations’ broad IT management strategies and are often responsible for maintaining the accessibility, functionality, and security of all computer resources. This typically includes any data storage infrastructure, networking equipment, web applications, and computer hardware, though every organization has different needs. For example, when hiring an IT director, manufacturing companies would likely prioritize applicants who have experience with internet of things devices and remote monitoring technologies. Ultimately, the specific roles and responsibilities IT directors fill come down to the scale and purpose of their company. Some common job duties include:
- Assessing an organization’s technology needs and making upgrade recommendations
- Setting short- and long-term IT implementation goals
- Planning and directing new hardware and software deployments
- Protecting sensitive data, systems, and applications from external threats
- Calculating the costs of current and future IT systems
- Managing other IT professionals, including tech support staff, software developers, etc.
IT directors work closely with their company’s chief technology officer and other senior-level executives to ensure all business-critical systems operate efficiently. This often requires them to develop specialized data security and information management policies that can help mitigate a wide range of cybersecurity risks, from malware infections and phishing scams to man-in-the-middle attacks and more. Considering close to 31% of companies have had their operational technology infrastructure compromised at some point in the past decade, according to a recent Cisco report, these defensive activities are foundational to today’s IT director positions.
Unlike other tech-focused positions, many IT directors are expected to take on a host of administrative duties that may fall outside their area of expertise. Professionals in this role often manage a large staff of workers and help coordinate projects between different departments. For example, companies looking to improve their customer support infrastructure might enlist an IT director to guide the design and implementation of a VoIP-oriented phone system. These types of large-scale tech integrations can be extremely disruptive, leading to unplanned downtime and performance issues that could impact the overall quality of service. IT directors must be able to think through these complexities, along with their organization’s unique business requirements, when creating an implementation schedule and freeing up room in their budgets.
Job outlook for IT directors
IT directors, sometimes called computer and information systems managers, are in high demand in nearly every industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this profession is expected to expand by 11% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations. One reason this career field is growing so rapidly is that business leaders are looking to ramp up their investment in advanced computing technologies and third-party services. A 2019 study from the technology company Spiceworks, an information technology company, discovered that enterprise IT budgets are increasing as companies look to eliminate critical operational barriers, including outdated infrastructure (64%), lackluster cybersecurity practices (56%), and changes to longstanding regulatory guidelines (37%). For large organizations, this often means onboarding a wide variety of technology experts in overlapping roles.
Whereas smaller businesses may only hire a single director, enterprises often employ several professionals with different specializations. For example, IT directors with a long history of networking experience would likely spend most of their time improving internal communication systems and developing strategies to ensure seamless connectivity. This staffing strategy allows computer science workers to pursue their own interests and leverage their subject matter expertise to the fullest. Depending on their organization, IT directors can expect to earn a median salary of $142,530, according to BLS data. That said, it’s important to remember that IT director is a high-level position that is typically filled by professionals with several years of experience and the right educational backgrounds.
How to become an IT director
IT directors must possess a variety of problem-solving skills and an aptitude for organizational thinking, as technology deployments rarely go as planned. Additionally, professionals in this role are often responsible for setting their company’s IT budget, negotiating prices with third-party vendors, and overseeing other finance-oriented activities. Job seekers looking for hands-on roles that are solely focused on the technology itself might want to consider other professions, as IT directors spend a lot of time dealing with back-end administrative concerns.
Nearly all IT directors possess some sort of advanced degree in computer science, IT governance, or management information systems, as they must be able to make high-level decisions that align with their organization’s specific business requirements. In most cases, technology professionals work their way up the corporate ladder before pursuing a director position. With that in mind, how can aspiring students and mid-career techies set themselves up for success as an IT director?
The master’s degree in management information systems online program from the University of Alabama at Birmingham offers a comprehensive curriculum focused on key topics in IT decision-making and management processes. Students can choose from two specialized concentrations, IT Management and Cyber Security Management, which provide real-world perspectives on IT governance and planning. This unique program bridges the gap between business and technology, allowing you to develop the skills and technical knowledge you need to pursue an IT director position. The core coursework includes instruction on:
- Business programming
- Database management
- Information systems
- Systems analysis
- Business intelligence strategy
These learning opportunities can help you build a strong foundation in modern business technologies, IT management processes, and cybersecurity best practices. Since the IT field is constantly changing, the MS in MIS program is designed to evolve with tomorrow’s technological landscape, ensuring your education is relevant and adaptable in the years to come.