IT Staff Ratios and Trends: Executive Summary

March, 2006

IT personnel trends over the past ten-year period are a story of boom and bust: the hiring boom of the middle years, driven by Y2K and the Internet frenzy, followed by massive layoffs of IT professionals and the trend toward offshore outsourcing that began in the early part of this decade.

However, just as a record-setting summer heat wave or a particularly cold winter can mask long-term climate changes, so also focusing on the shift between hiring and firing from year to year can mask long-term changes in IT staffing. Over the past decade, the mix of job positions in the typical corporate IT department has been changing, in ways that are not commonly recognized.

This article is an executive summary of our report, Long Term Trends in IT Staffing Ratios, which identifies those changes and their significance for the future of IT staffing.

The IT Staffing Ratio
The primary metric we use to assess staffing trends is the ratio of each job category to the total IT headcount. For example, if an IT department has 100 staff members and 30 of them are applications developers, then the application development staff ratio is 30%. The IT staffing ratio is useful for analyzing long-term shifts in the job mix because it is unaffected by overall changes in total IT headcount. Using this metric, each job category may be viewed in terms of its weighting relative to other jobs in the IT organization.

The Job Categories
Given the many job titles in the typical IT organization, it is necessary to group jobs into broad categories in order to provide comparisons across a large population of surveyed organizations from year to year. For purposes of this study, we grouped jobs from our annual surveys into the following categories.

  • Application Development
  • System Management
  • Network Administration 
  • QA/QC
  • Documentation/Training
  • Database Administration: 
  • IT Management
  • Website Management
  • Administration & Clerical
  • Help Desk & PC Support
  • Computer Operations

The Bottom Line
Our research shows that over the past 10 years, only four job categories have increased in the IT organization job mix:

  • Application Development
  • System Management
  • Network Management
  • QA/QC

The remaining seven job categories all decreased as a percentage of the total IT staff.

Looking at the five year trends, the results are even more dramatic. Only two job categories increased in the staffing ratio:

  • Application Development
  • System Management

Implications for the IT Organization
The IT organization of today has become a mature business function, subject to the same cost and staffing constraints as other business functions, such as sales, operations, and marketing. IT must deliver value and it must do so with limitations on spending.

Because personnel costs are the largest line item in the IT budget, at over 30% of total IT spending, IT executives must continue to focus on which job categories they can trim, allowing them to allocate increased headcount to categories that deliver the most value to the enterprise. The long term shifts in IT staffing shows the functions that most directly deliver such value.

The staffing trends identified in the full report indicate that demand for skilled application development, system management, and network management professionals are likely to remain strong for the near future, reflected in increased compensation levels.

The Trend Data
The full version of this report shows long term trends in the IT staffing ratio for each job category, based on the linear regression of our annual survey data of the past ten years.  We also calculate the five-year trend for each job category, to determine whether staffing trends have changed in recent years compared to the early years of the study period. Comparing the five-year trends with the ten-year trends gives additional insight into whether certain job categories are consistently growing throughout the ten years or whether the trend has changed in the more recent past.

The full version of this report also provides the detailed data in tabular form, including the annual change in the ratios and the ten-year and five-year rankings of each job category in terms of growth rate.

This information is useful to IT executives to understand how their organizations compare to a wide population of other IT organizations in terms of the staffing mix and trends in job growth. The data may also be used as a basis for developing staffing plans to fill high demand positions with in-house candidates from job categories that are expected to decline in demand.

For many of the positions, we also correlate the findings with the results of our 2006 Salary Survey.

This article is an executive summary of our full report, Long Term Trends in IT Staffing Ratios.

For the current year benchmarks and metrics for all job positions surveyed by Computer Economics, please refer to our current year IT Spending and Staffing Study

For more in-depth staffing metrics for specific job positions, please see our IT Staffing Ratios Bundle.