Speak to company heads or headhunters, and you’ll hear the same tired lament: “I wish I could find some good MIS (management information systems) people.”

Bruce Fram, president and CEO of Luminate, Inc., a Redwood City, CA-based provider of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, will settle for just one “high-level MIS person.”

Fram’s situation is classic in the IT industry. His five-year-old, pre-IPO company has jumped practically from small to midsize over night. Last year he had 50 people working for him; now he has 100. No wonder he needs help!

But MIS people are hard to find because they’re a combination of “geek” and “suit” (corpocrat). They understand technology thoroughly and can talk to everyone in the company, from the CEO to the folks on the loading docks.

The many hats of an MIS staffer
“The MIS person must technically integrate every department so management gets a clear picture of how each one relates to the bottom line,” said Matthew Hollingsworth, president of the Cincinnati-based technical recruiting Web site, Techemployment.com.

A company must decide what it wants its technology to accomplish, and then it must create a plan (or methodology) for achieving it. The MIS person spearheads both these efforts.

MIS became a hot buzzword in the 1970s when companies realized the importance of networking systems. The function grew in importance until the Internet catapulted it into a pivotal job in companies planning a global presence. The task of making technology work at optimal efficiency was even more important.
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Senior level MIS job description
When Fram realized his technology was like a runaway horse, he knew he needed a seasoned MIS person to pull in the reins. His 250 computers around the world needed constant maintenance. There were issues of password administration, dial-in-access issues, administering computer agreements, and so on.

Only a skilled MIS person could channel all this massive computing power in the right direction. His two junior MIS people worked on more than they could handle. They worked dawn to dusk configuring machines, getting e-mail servers up and running, and generally squelching fires.

Fram’s search for the right person began two months ago. From the onset, he wasn’t about to settle. “There are plenty of people with great credentials out there,” he said. But, he insists he’s going to hold out for what he calls an “A person.”

That “A person,” according to Fram, has an unusual mixture of technical and visionary skills. “I need someone who can look at the big picture,” he said. “This person must assess the present in order to tell me where I must be three years from now.”

In short, Fram needs someone who can create a realistic vision for his company. Experience needed? Both small and big company experience. “I don’t want someone who understands my situation in theory,” adds Fram. “I want someone who lived it.”

Finally, Fram says he wants more than a thinker. Like the hands-on techies he employs, he wants someone who can roll up his (or her) sleeves and make the vision a reality.

Is Fram asking for too much? Not according to Hollingsworth.

Put all of Fram’s job specs together, and you have a description of a senior MIS person. Experienced MIS staffers are hard to find because they bring multiple, and what were once contradictory, skill sets to an organization. It’s no wonder colleges all over the country are churning out information systems grads as fast as they can.

The MIS person bridges the technical and business ends of an organization. The MIS person must do a lot of reporting, which means not only being an articulate communicator, but also having the patience and diplomacy to cope with corporate politics.
The entry-level salary range is $50K-$60K. A director, depending on geography, can earn $150K-$200K. “Once you hit the director level, you could be on the runway to a CIO job,” says Hollingsworth.