Computer Systems Design and Related Services Industries

Significant Points

Nature of the Industry[About this section] [To Top]

Virtually all organizations rely on computer and information technology to conduct business and operate efficiently. Many institutions, however, do not have the internal resources to effectively design, implement, or manage the products and systems that they need. When faced with such limitations, organizations often turn to the computer systems design and related services industry.

Goods and services. Establishments in this industry design computer and information systems, develop custom software programs, and provide computer facilities management services. They also may perform various other functions, such as software installation and disaster recovery services. They generally work on a contract basis, assisting an organization with a particular project or problem, such as setting up a secure Web site or establishing a marketplace online, or for ongoing activities, such as the management of an onsite data center or help-desk.

Computer training contractors are included in the section on educational services, and establishments that manufacture computer equipment are included in the section on computer and electronic product manufacturing. Producers of packaged software and Internet-based software are covered in the section on software publishers. Telecommunications services, including Internet service providers, are covered in the section on telecommunications.

Industry organization. In 2008, there were 180,100 establishments in the computer systems design and related services industry. Custom programming establishments write, modify, test, and support software to meet the needs of a particular customer. These service firms may be hired to code large programs, or to install a software package on a user's system and customize it to the user's specific needs. Programming service firms also may update or reengineer existing systems, or design customized Web sites.

Systems design services firms plan and design computer systems that integrate computer hardware, software, and communications technologies. They help clients select the right hardware and software products for a particular project, and then develop, install, and implement the system. In addition, they often train and support the system’s users. Some firms in this industry also consult on security issues. The system’s hardware and software components may be provided by the design firm as part of integrated services, or may be provided by a third party or vendor.

Computer facilities management services usually are offered at the customer's site. Establishments offering these services provide onsite management and operation of the client’s computer systems and facilities, as well as facilities support services.

Establishments that provide disaster recovery services help organizations prepare for a major malfunction of their computer systems. They back up data and create strategies for business operation during and after a shut-down. They also help organizations recover lost data after a disaster has occurred.

Recent developments. The widespread use of the Internet and intranets has resulted in an increased focus on information security. Security threats range from damaging computer viruses to online credit card fraud and identity theft. The expansive use of e-commerce highlights this concern, as firms use the Internet to exchange sensitive information with clients. In order to mitigate this threat, many organizations are employing the services of security consulting firms, which specialize in all aspects of information technology (IT) security. These firms assess computer systems for areas of vulnerability, manage firewalls, and provide protection against intrusion and software "viruses."

Working Conditions[About this section] [To Top]

Hours. In 2008, workers in the computer systems design and related services industry averaged 38.8 hours per week, compared with 33.6 for all industries combined. About 19 percent work 50 or more hours a week. Only about 6 percent of the workers in the computer systems design and related services industry work part time.

Work environment. Most workers in the computer systems design and related services industry work in clean, quiet offices. Those in facilities management and maintenance may work in computer operations centers. Given the technology available today, however, more work can be done from remote locations using e-mail and the Internet. For example, systems analysts may work from home with their computers linked directly to computers at the location of their employer or client. Computer support specialists, likewise, can tap into a customer's computer remotely in order to identify and fix problems. Even programmers and consultants, who often relocate to a customer's place of business while working on a project, may perform work from offsite locations.

Injuries in this industry are rare, but those who work with computers for extended periods may experience musculoskeletal strain, eye problems, or repetitive motion injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Employment[To Top]

In 2008, there were about 1.5 million wage and salary jobs in the computer systems design and related services industry. While the industry has both large and small firms, the average establishment is relatively small; about 78 percent of establishments employed fewer than 5 workers in 2008. The majority of jobs, however, are found in establishments that employ 50 or more workers.

Compared with the rest of the economy, there are significantly fewer workers 45 years of age and older in the computer systems design and related services industry. This industry's workforce remains younger than most, with a large proportion of workers in the 25-to-44 age range (table 1). This reflects the industry's explosive growth in employment in the 1980s and 1990s that provided opportunities to thousands of young workers who possessed the latest technological skills.

Table 1. Percent distribution of employment, by age group, 2008
Age group Computer systems design and related services All industries
Total 100.0% 100.0%
16-19 0.5 3.8
20-24 5.3 9.4
25-34 28.0 21.6
35-44 30.4 23.0
45-54 24.6 23.8
55-64 9.3 14.3
65 and older 1.9 4.1

Occupations in the Industry[To Top]

Providing a wide array of information services to clients requires a diverse and highly skilled workforce. The majority of workers in the computer systems design and related services industry are in professional and related occupations—overwhelmingly computer specialists such as computer systems analysts, computer software engineers, and computer programmers (table 2).

Professional and related occupations. Computer specialists make up the vast majority of professional and related occupations, and account for about 55 percent of the industry as a whole. Their duties vary by occupation, and include such tasks as developing computer software, designing information systems, and maintaining network security.

Computer programmers write, test, and maintain the detailed instructions, called programs or software, that computers must follow to perform their functions. They often work under the supervision of computer software engineers, whose main job is to design software, or network and computer systems analysts, who specialize in information systems. Following the specifications that are developed by software engineers or systems analysts, programmers break down each operation into a logical sequence of steps, and convert the instructions for those steps into a language that the computer understands. Most programmers today use sophisticated, object-oriented programming languages, such as C++, Java, or Python. As some of the programming process has become automated, many programmers have begun to assume more responsibilities, such as customizing programs to meet clients' specific needs.

Computer software engineers design, develop, test, and evaluate computer applications and system software. Although programmers write and support programs in new languages, much of the design and development is the responsibility of software engineers or software developers. Software engineers in the systems design and related services industry must possess strong programming skills, but are more concerned with developing algorithms, and analyzing and solving programming problems for specific network systems. They also develop custom programs to meet the needs of a particular customer. They develop software systems for control and automation in manufacturing, business, and other areas.

Computer systems analysts integrate hardware and software to make computer systems more efficient. By implementing new software applications, or even designing entirely new systems, they help organizations maximize their investments in machines, personnel, and business processes. To perform their jobs, they use data modeling, structured analysis, information engineering, and other methods. They prepare charts for programmers to follow for proper coding and perform cost-benefit analyses to help management evaluate systems. They also ensure that systems perform to their specifications by testing them thoroughly.

Network systems and data communications analysts design and evaluate network systems, such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and Internet systems. They perform network modeling, analysis, and planning, and may deal with the interfacing of computer and communications equipment. With the explosive growth of the Internet, this worker group has come to include a variety of occupations related to design, development, and maintenance of Web sites and their servers. Web developers are responsible for day-to-day site design and creation. Webmasters are responsible for the technical aspects of the Web site, including performance issues, and for approving site content.

Computer support specialists provide technical assistance, support, and advice to customers and users. This group of occupations includes workers with a variety of titles, such as technical support specialists and help-desk technicians. These troubleshooters interpret problems and provide technical support for hardware, software, and systems. They answer telephone calls, analyze problems using automated diagnostic programs, and resolve recurrent difficulties encountered by users.

Management, business, and financial occupations. Computer and information systems managers direct the work of systems analysts, computer programmers, and other computer-related workers. They analyze the computer and information needs of their organization and determine personnel and equipment requirements. These managers plan and coordinate activities such as the installation and upgrading of hardware and software; programming and systems design; the development of computer networks; and the construction of Internet and intranet sites.

Sales and related occupations. Due in part to the expansive use of e-commerce, a substantial number of workers in this industry are employed in sales and related occupations. In order to compete successfully in the online world, firms employ marketing and sales workers to improve the presentation and features of Web sites and other Web-related content. These workers are vital for the successful promotion and sales of the products and services offered by the industry.

Table 2. Employment of wage and salary workers in computer systems design and related services by occupation, 2008 and projected change, 2008-2018. (Employment in thousands)
Occupation Employment, 2008 Percent Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
All Occupations 1,450.3 100.0 45.3
Management, business, and financial occupations 248.4 17.1 43.7
  Marketing and sales managers 16.6 1.1 47.4
  Computer and information systems managers 47.9 3.3 44.9
  Management analysts 33.9 2.3 40.2
  Accountants and auditors 18.5 1.3 65.5
Professional and related occupations 898.2 61.9 48.1
  Computer software engineers, applications 175.2 12.1 57.3
  Computer software engineers, systems software 113.7 7.8 57.4
  Computer support specialists 99.8 6.9 57.4
  Computer systems analysts 126.3 8.7 40.2
  Database administrators 18.8 1.3 57.3
  Network and computer systems administrators 50.5 3.5 71.7
  Network systems and data communications analysts 41.3 2.9 95.6
  Engineers 36.5 2.5 43.3
Sales and related occupations 94.1 6.5 39.5
  Sales representatives, services 32.2 2.2 40.3
  Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing 37.2 2.6 39.5
Office and administrative support occupations 174.4 12.0 37.5
  Customer service representatives 34.7 2.4 43.0
  Secretaries and administrative assistants 37.8 2.6 36.8
  Office clerks, general 27.7 1.9 40.3
NOTE: Columns may not add to totals due to omission of occupations with small employment.

Training and Advancement[About this section] [To Top]

Occupations in the computer systems design and related services industry require varying levels of education, but because of the high proportion of workers in professional occupations, the education level of workers in this industry is higher than average. The level of education and type of training required depend on employers' needs, which often are affected by such aspects as local demand for workers, project timelines, and changes in technology and business conditions. For example, the recent emphasis on information security has increased the demand for workers with expertise in security services. Employers also are demanding workers with skill and expertise in other fields. Computer software engineers who develop e-commerce applications, for example, should have some expertise in sales or finance.

Professional and related occupations. Although there are no universal educational requirements for computer programmers, workers in this occupation commonly hold a bachelor's degree. Some hold a degree in computer science, mathematics, or information systems. Others have taken special courses in computer programming to supplement their study in fields such as the physical sciences. Because employers' needs are varied, a 2-year degree or certificate may be sufficient for some positions, as long as applicants possess the right technical skills. Some employers seek applicants with technical or professional certification. Certification can be obtained independently, although many organizations now assist employees in becoming certified.

Entry-level computer programmers usually start working with an experienced programmer to update existing code, generate lines of one portion of a larger program, or write relatively simple programs. They then advance to more difficult programming assignments, and may become project supervisors. With continued experience, they may move into management positions within their organizations. Some programmers advance into software engineering positions, and others become systems analysts.

Most computer software engineers have a bachelor's or higher degree, in addition to broad knowledge and experience with computer systems and technologies. Common degree concentrations for applications software engineers include computer science and software engineering. Common degree concentrations for systems software engineers include computer science and information systems. Graduate degrees are preferred for some of the more complex software engineering jobs. Computer software engineers may also benefit from getting a technical or professional certification.

Software engineers who show leadership ability can become project managers or advance into management positions, such as manager of information systems or chief information officer.

For computer systems analysts, many employers seek applicants who have a bachelor's degree in computer science, information science, or management information systems (MIS). Many of these workers hold an advanced degree in a technical field, and some hold a master's degree in business administration (MBA) with a concentration in information systems, and are specialists in their fields. An associate degree or certificate may be sufficient for some positions as network systems and data communication analysts, such as webmaster, although more advanced positions, such as systems architect, generally require a computer-related bachelor's or master’s degree. Government, academic institutions, and other employers increasingly are seeking workers with certifications in information security, reflecting the importance of keeping complex computer networks and vital electronic infrastructure safe from intruders.

Systems analysts generally begin with limited responsibilities. They may begin working with experienced analysts, or may deal only with small systems or one aspect of a system. As they gain further education or work experience, they may move into supervisory or management positions. Systems analysts who work with one type of system, or one aspect or application of a system, can become specialty consultants.

Persons interested in becoming a computer support specialist generally need an associate degree in a computer-related field, as well as significant hands-on experience with computers. They also must possess strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills, because troubleshooting and helping others are their main job functions. As technology continues to improve, computer support specialists must constantly strive to acquire new skills if they wish to remain competitive in the field. One way to achieve this is through technical or professional certification.

Computer support specialists may advance by developing expertise in an area that leads to other opportunities. For example, those responsible for network support may advance into network administration or network security positions.

Consulting is an option for experienced workers who do not wish to advance to management positions, or who would rather continue to work with hands-on applications or in a particular specialty. These workers may market their services on their own, under contract as specialized consultants, or with an organization that provides consulting services to outside clients. Large consulting and computer firms often hire inexperienced college graduates and put them through intensive, company-based programs that train them to provide such services.

Sales and related occupations. Many experienced workers move into sales positions, as they gain knowledge of specific products. The wide use of e-commerce has created opportunities for professionals who specialize in Web marketing and sales. For example, computer programmers who adapt prepackaged software for accounting organizations may use their specialized knowledge to sell such products to similar firms.

Management, business, and financial occupations. Computer and information systems managers usually are required to have a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field and work experience, but employers often prefer a graduate degree. An MBA with technology as a core component is especially preferred, as business skills are becoming increasingly important.

Outlook[About this section] [To Top]

The computer systems design and related services industry grew dramatically throughout the 1990s, as employment more than doubled. While growth has been decidedly slower since the turn of the century, this industry is still projected to be one of the 10 fastest growing in the Nation. Job opportunities should be excellent for most workers, with the best opportunities occurring for computer specialists.

Employment change. Wage-and-salary employment is expected to grow 45 percent from 2008 to 2018, about 4 times as fast as the 11 percent growth projected for all industries combined. In addition, this industry will add about 656,400 jobs over the decade, placing it among the 5 industries with the largest job growth. An increasing reliance on information technology will spur demand for computer systems design and related services. Organizations will continue to turn to firms in this industry to maximize their return on investments in equipment, and to help them satisfy their growing computing needs.

Growth should also result from the increasing need to maintain network and computer system security. Security specialists will be employed more often to asses a system's vulnerability and implement security measures. In addition, analysts and developers will be needed to develop new antivirus software, programs, and procedures. Therefore, employment of systems analysts, software engineers, and consultants in areas such as disaster recovery services, custom security programming, and computer systems security should rise rapidly.

The demand for networking and the need to integrate new hardware, software, and communications technologies will drive demand for consulting and integration. The expansion of the Internet and the proliferation of wireless technologies have created demand for a wide variety of new products and services. For example, the expansion of the wireless Internet has brought a new aspect of mobility to information technology by allowing people to stay connected to the Internet anywhere, anytime. As businesses and individuals become more dependent on this new technology, there will be an increased need for professionals that can design and integrate computer systems, so that they will be compatible with mobile technologies. The healthcare industry, in addition, is expected to increase its use of information technology. The adoption of e-prescribing, electronic health records, and other IT platforms tools will spur demand for computer systems design services. The demand for custom programming services should also increase as the popularity of open-source software and service-oriented architecture grow.

Given the overall rate of growth expected for the entire industry, most occupations should continue to grow rapidly, although some will grow faster than others. The most rapid growth will occur among network systems and data communications analysts. The growing use of sophisticated computer networks and Internet and intranet sites, and the need for faster, more efficient networking products will increase the demand for their services. Other rapidly growing occupations include computer software engineers, database administrators, and network and computer system administrators. Business and financial operations occupations will also see rapid growth, information technology has become a vital aspect of business

Job prospects. Given the rate at which the computer systems design and related services industry is expected to grow, job opportunities should be excellent for most workers. The best opportunities will be in computer specialist occupations, reflecting their growth and the continuing demand for the high-level skills that are needed to keep up with changes in technology. In addition, as individuals and organizations continue to conduct business electronically, the importance of maintaining system and network security will increase. Employment opportunities should be especially good for individuals involved in cyberspace security services, such as disaster recovery services, custom security programming, and security software installation services.

Earnings [About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Industry earnings. Workers in the computer systems design and related services industry generally command higher earnings than the national average. All production or nonsupervisory workers in the industry averaged $1,401 a week in 2008, significantly higher than the average of $608 for all industries. This reflects the concentration of professionals and specialists, who often are highly compensated for their specialized skills or expertise. Wages in selected occupations in computer systems design and related services appear in table 3.

Table 3. Median hourly wages of the largest occupations in computer systems design and related services, May 2008
Occupation Computer systems design and related services All industries
Computer and information systems managers $56.79 $53.95
Computer software engineers, systems software 44.04 44.44
Computer software engineers, applications 40.68 41.07
Management analysts 39.47 35.37
Computer systems analysts 37.83 36.30
Network systems and data communications analysts 34.81 34.18
Network and computer systems administrators 33.89 31.88
Computer programmers 33.79 33.47
Computer support specialists 20.71 20.89
Customer service representatives 16.18 14.36

As one might expect, earnings vary by occupation, and within occupations. For example, in May 2008, hourly wages of computer software applications engineers ranged from less than $25.83 for the lowest paid 10 percent to more than $61.95 for the highest paid 10 percent. Managers usually earn more because they have been on the job longer and are more experienced than their staffs, but their salaries, too, can vary by level and experience. Accordingly, hourly wages of computer and information systems managers ranged from less than $33.05 for the lowest paid 10 percent to more than $80.00 for the highest paid 10 percent. Differences in wages are the result of many factors. For example, workers with higher levels of experience and education may command higher wages than their counterparts with lower levels of experience and less education. Earnings also may be affected by the area of the country in which the establishment is located. Workers in major metropolitan areas typically earn more than workers in smaller cities or towns, or in rural areas.

Benefits and union membership. Workers generally receive standard benefits, including health insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and pension plans. Unionization is rare in the computer systems design and related services industry. In 2008, only 2 percent of all workers were union members or covered by union contracts, compared with an average of 14 percent of workers throughout all private industries.



*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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