IT departments in the UK and elsewhere are facing a demographic timebomb, according to a report by research firm Ovum.

Two challenges are certain, said Tom Kacharvy, senior vice president of Ovum. "The impending mass retirement of baby boomers will deplete staff and starve many companies of critical skills.

"Meanwhile, a shortage of replacements due to a smaller crop of college graduates and a dramatic decline in students planning to enter IT-related fields will compound both the problem and the urgency facing user corporations."

The sweep of digital technologies and the transformation to a knowledge-based economy has created a robust demand for workers highly skilled in the use of IT. Since IT is an enabling technology for the entire economy, any failure to meet the demand for IT professionals could have severe consequences for the UK's competitiveness, economic growth, and job creation, Ovum warns.

At the same time, computer science programmes have not been drawing the great numbers of new students that they did in the late 1990s. Furthermore, the greying of the IT workforce is becoming more apparent. But these senior personnel are starting to retire and it will be some time before their replacements can achieve the same level of knowledge.

By 2010 the IT profession will split into four domains of expertise: technology, information, process, and relationships, according to Gartner.

And the landscape for IT professionals will radically change by that time.

Enabled by high-speed global networks and driven by companies looking for highly competitive IT skills, knowledge bases, and services, global sourcing will become a standard part of companies' sourcing portfolios and this will put IT professionals in competition with their peers in other geographical markets.

But as older workers exit, along with them will go technological skills, industry and company knowledge, and seasoned judgement, including how to weigh the many factors that go into decision-making.

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