Tech CFOs to hire sales, R&D staff as growth returns

CFOs also hope this growth will lead to higher pay, along with cloud computing adoption

Technology companies anticipate that growth will return to that sector in 2011 and have plans to hire the workers necessary to capitalize on that, according to a recent poll of tech CFOs.

With 46 percent of the 100 CFOs polled reporting that their companies will increase staff levels this year, the executives surveyed have a more positive outlook on the IT sector's economic health, said Hank Galligan, leader in the technology and life sciences practice at accounting and consulting firm BDO USA, which conducted the survey in January.

"I'm not saying that tech drives everything, but this group of CFOs is optimistic," Galligan said. "It's no longer batten down hatches and maintain. It's about growth."

Businesses will specifically look to add employees to their sales and marketing staffs, with 48 percent of the respondents planning on hiring in that department, and in their research and development divisions, with 22 percent poised to increase that group's headcount.

Companies are beefing up sales and marketing teams "with the belief that people are going to start buying again," said Galligan. With people making purchases, businesses need to "bolster the research and development group to keep the best product out there."

Even with the U.S. unemployment rate at 9 percent, competition for tech jobs remains strong, said Galligan.

"I think that it's difficult to find the right people," he said, adding some of those without jobs may lack the skills that IT companies need.

"You need people that can actually sell technology. Then the next area is research and development, which needs certain skills. So what I've heard on the street is that there is still a talent war going on for those research and development folks."

Like the technology market, competition for finance and accounting positions also remains robust, according to a survey conducted by the finance and accounting division of staffing firm Robert Half International.

That report, which was released in December, indicated that the U.S. unemployment rate, which neared 10 percent at the time, did not accurately reflect the finance sector's need for college-educated workers with specialized skills. At the time, a Robert Half executive estimated the unemployment rate for the finance and accounting industry at 3 percent to 5 percent.

With the tech space poised for growth, nearly half of the CFOs surveyed anticipate a pay raise, with 48 percent claiming that they expect a salary increase this year. Executive compensation proved controversial to the public during the recession, and the U.S. government responded by including a provision in the Wall Street Reform Act that allows shareholders to vote on executive compensation. Despite this legislation, 94 percent of the CFOs said the law would not affect their pay scale.

CFOs, however, will need to earn those larger paychecks, with 55 percent reporting that their employers will more closely link compensation to performance.

"More and more people are getting pressure from shareholders in that area," Galligan said.

The BDO survey also revealed a continued embrace of cloud computing, with 72 percent of CFOs reporting that their firms are using the technology. This marks a 29 percent rise from the 2010 survey. CFOs ranked better business agility, improved stability and cost flexibility as key factors in adopting cloud computing. Among companies that cloud compute, 55 percent of respondents are looking to ramp up use, an increase of 53 percent from last year's report.

On Thursday actions by Manpower, a global provider of staffing services, and Tampa General Hospital helped validate this finding. Both firms announced that they are jettisoning some of their on-site systems and are adopting Microsoft's cloud computing offerings.

While the companies of most of those surveyed have taken up cloud computing, 28 percent of the CFOs said they avoid the technology.

Security concerns (29 percent), the complexities and cost of moving to the cloud (29 percent), and limited application features (29 percent) proved the main deterrents, according to the CFOs.

While 10 percent fewer CFOs see cloud computing security as a problem compared to the 2010 study, security issues with the technology "have been there for a while," said Galligan.

"It's been a lingering issue," said Galligan, who noted that maintaining privacy and data security are two main concerns. "You're putting out your most important assets with sale force automation."

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