IT Pay: Keep It Short, Stupid

Survey: employers switching to short-term incentive programs for IT workers. Plus: E-mail as profiler? And: the ten most common spam come-ons.
Scott Leibs and John GoffJuly 10, 2003

Justified or not, tech workers have a reputation for being a flighty, mercurial bunch. Indeed, during the dot-com frenzy of the late 1990s, employers went to great lengths to attract and retain prized IT workers — and even some workers who weren’t so well thought of. The perks, including lavish stock option grants, max flextime, and office game rooms, eventually reached the point of absurdity.

With the recent economic downturn, however, tech workers have gotten something of a come-uppance. These days, the foosball tables are gone, and so are many IT workers. And while it appears that employers have the upper hand right now, it also appears corporates learned a valuable lesson from their earlier dealings with the dark side. The lesson: tech workers are, well … a flighty, mercurial bunch.

So how do employers keep workers with such short-attention spans happy and motivated? If a new survey is accurate, it appears that many employers are simply revamping their compensation strategies to fit those what’s being compensated.

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In the survey of 151 companies/organizations conducted by IT consultancy Gartner, Inc. (and published by IT consultancy people3), close to 40 percent of the respondents said they use short-term incentive and bonus programs when paying IT workers. The respondents said those short-term programs are directly tied to business unit performance.

“It is critical for IT leaders to directly tie their employees’ monetary rewards to the achievement of their respective business unit objectives,” notes Diane M. Berry, managing vice president at people3. “Not only does this drive short-term performance to meet the increasing expectations of the business, but it also motivates and retains IT employees who are increasingly looking for a rewarding and satisfactory work experience.”

The Gartner/people3 survey also found that average base salary for IT workers jumped up 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2003. Median base salary rose by an average of 4.2 percent.

Of particular note to CFOs — and probably of no real surprise to CFOs — the respondents said the skill they have greatest difficulty in recruiting is Oracle administration, followed by PeopleSoft and Unix (a tie, actually). According to the survey, that result shows an increasing demand for enterprise resource planning-related skills.

The most difficult IT position to fill? Database administrator. That was followed by Internet/Web architect, network architect, network engineer and security analyst. Kaypro administrator did not make the list.

E-mail: Return from Senders

Looking for leaders — or slackers — in your finance organization? Check your E-mail.

Using an algorithm originally developed to identify groups of genes with related functions, researchers at Hewlett-Packard Labs analyzed the addresses of close to a million E-mail messages sent among 400 of the lab’s workers over three months’ time. The result? A remarkably accurate picture of the organization. Some 80 percent of the groups identified mirrored actual departments or proj-ect teams. More intriguing, the remaining 20 percent turned out to reflect strong but informal collaborations that don’t appear on the lab’s organization chart. The algorithm also correctly identified leaders — both those with management titles and de facto leaders of the informal groups.

Companies traditionally spend big bucks on surveys and consultants to identify so-called communities of practice, says Joshua R. Tyler, co-author of the study. E-mail analysis, he says, “is quick and cheap.” Although still in the early stages, he says, the research might also provide “a way to discover the undiscovered stars.”

The study focused on internal E-mails, and excluded messages with wide distribution that were likely to be administrative — or jokes, in less-disciplined settings. “Privacy,” adds Tyler, “is potentially the biggest obstacle preventing other organizations from trying to deploy this algorithm,” although he notes that the study did not look at subject lines or content, only addresses.

Too bad, says Michael Schrage, co-director of the eMarkets Initiative at the MIT Media Lab. “This study is a nice first cut,” he says, but argues that greater insight will come from analyzing E-mail content. He predicts CFOs will soon use E-mail technologies to gauge productivity and to audit who is communicating about sensitive financial information.

Indeed, some companies already filter outgoing E-mails for financial disclosures. “Over time,” says Schrage, “auditing E-mail will become an integral part of the internal and external audit function.”

The privacy issue is “bull,” he says. “Anyone sending E-mails to fellow employees who believes that E-mail is protected is insane.”

Spamity Spam

Okay, we admit it. We’re starting to get sick and tired of 1) the torrent of spam that floods email inboxes each day, and 2) news stories about the torrent of spam that’s flooding email inboxes each day.

Nevertheless, we were intrigued by one study about spam that just came out. Conducted by FrontBridge, an email protection and secure messaging services, the research analyzed hundreds of millions of e-mail messages (about what the average CFO gets in a week) to assess deceptive subject lines in spam sent to businesses (Frontbridge says the use of deceptive tactics has increased more than 50 percent in the first six months of the year).

And what did FrontBridge find? “Spammers have gone well beyond the direct-sale ‘Lose weight fast’ subject line tactics,” says Charles McColgan, chief technology officer at FrontBridge Technologies. “…Many spammers pose as good friends or acquaintances, using basic, conversational subject line references to trick recipients.”

Here, then are the ten most common deceptive subject lines, as compiled by FrontBridge.

1. RE: Information you asked for
2. hey
3. Check this out!
4. Is this your email?
5. Please resend the email
6. RE: Your order
7. Past due account
8. Please verify your information
9. Version update
10. RE: 4th of July