IPA Provides Useful Information about the Computer Systems Design and Related Services Industry
Computer Systems Design and Related Services
Informaion on Computer Systems Design
- The computer systems design and related services industry is expected to be one of the top 10
fastest growing industries in the economy, adding more than 600,000 jobs between 2002 and 2012.
- Professional and related workers enjoy the best prospects, reflecting continuing demand for higher
level skills needed to keep up with changes in technology.
- Computer specialists account for 53 percent of all employees in this industry.
NATURE OF THE INDUSTRY
All organizations today rely on computer and information technology to conduct business and operate more
efficiently. Often, however, these institutions do not have the internal resources to effectively implement
new technologies or satisfy their changing needs. When this happens, they turn to the computer systems design
and related services industry to meet their specialized needs on a contract or customer basis. Firms may enlist
the services of one of nearly 146,000 establishments in the computer systems design and related services industry
for help with a particular project or problem, such as setting up a secure Web site or establishing a marketplace
online. Alternatively, they may choose to contract out one or more activities, such as the management of their
onsite data center or help-desk support, to a computer services firm.
Services provided by this industry include custom computer programming services; computer systems design services;
computer facilities management services, including computer systems or data processing facilities support services
for clients; and other computer-related services such as disaster recovery services and software installation.
Computer training contractors, however, are grouped with educational services, and establishments that manufacture
and sell computer equipment are included with electronic equipment manufacturing. Establishments primarily engaged
in providing computer data processing services at their own facility for others are classified in the data processing,
hosting, and related services industry. Producers of packaged software and Internet-based software are part of the
software publishers industry, which is discussed elsewhere in the Career Guide. Telecommunications services,
including cable Internet providers, also are covered in a separate Career Guide statement.
Professional services offered within this industry include custom programming, computer systems design and other
specialized consulting. 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 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 re-engineer existing systems. Systems design services firms plan and design computer systems that integrate
computer hardware, software, and communications technologies. The hardware and software components of the system
may be provided by the design firm as part of integrated services or may be provided by third parties or vendors.
These firms often install the system and train and support its users.
Computer facilities management services usually are offered at the customer’s site. Establishments offering these
services provide onsite management and operation of clients’ computer systems and data processing facilities, as
well as facilities support services.
Electronic business ("e-business") is any process that a business organization conducts over a computer-
mediated network. Electronic commerce ("e-commerce") is that part of e-business that involves the buying
and selling of goods and services online. With the growth of the Internet and the expansion of electronic commerce,
some service firms specialize in developing and maintaining Web sites for client companies. Others create and maintain
corporate intranets or self-contained internal networks linking multiple users within an organization by means of
Internet technology. These firms design sophisticated computer networks, assist with upgrades or conversions, custom
design special programming features for clients and engage in continual maintenance. They help clients select the right
hardware and software products for a particular project and then develop, install and implement the system, as well as
train the client's users. Service firms also offer consulting services for any stages of development throughout the
entire process, from design and content development to administration and maintenance of site security.
The widespread use of the Internet and intranets also has resulted in an increased focus on security. The robust
growth of electronic commerce highlights this concern, as firms seek to attract as many potential customers as
possible to their websites. Security threats range from damaging computer viruses to online credit card fraud.
Services contracted out to security consulting firms include analyzing vulnerability, managing firewalls, and
providing intrusion and antivirus protection. Information technology (IT) security has two important aspects:
Computer security, making software and networks safe; and homeland security, keeping track of people and information.
The need for more secure Internet and Intranet sites to ensure protection for individuals’ personal information and
for companies and banks to protect their funds and infrastructure, has created a new demand for cyberspace security
Most workers in this 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 modems, fax machines, e-mail and especially the Internet. For example, systems analysts may work from home, with
their computers linked directly to computers at a financial services firm. Although they often relocate to a customer’s
place of business while working on a project, programmers and consultants may actually perform work from locations
offsite. Even technical support personnel can tap into a customer’s computer remotely in order to identify and fix problems.
Only about 6 percent of the workers in computer systems design and related services firms work part time, compared with
16 percent of workers throughout all industries. Many workers in this industry work more than the standard 40-hour workweek—
about 1 in 5 work 50 or more hours a week. For many professionals and technical specialists, evening or weekend work is
common to meet deadlines or solve problems. Professionals working for large establishments may have less freedom in
planning their schedule than do consultants for very small firms, whose work may be more varied.
Those who work with personal computers for extended periods may experience musculoskeletal strain, eye problems,
stress or repetitive motion illnesses, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
In 2002, there were about 1.2 million wage and salary jobs and an additional 116,000 self-employed workers,
making the industry one of the largest in the economy. Most self-employed workers are independent consultants.
While the industry has both large and small firms, the average establishment in computer systems design and
related services is relatively small; over 78 percent of establishments employed fewer than 5 workers. The majority
of jobs, however, are found in establishments that employ 50 or more workers. Many small establishments in the
industry are startup firms that hope to capitalize on a market niche.
Relative to the rest of the economy, there are significantly fewer workers 45 years of age and older; this industry’s
workforce remains younger than most, with large proportions of workers in the 25 to 44 age range. This reflects the
industry’s explosive growth in employment since the early 1980s. The huge increase in employment afforded thousands
of opportunities to younger workers possessing the newest technological skills.
OCCUPATIONS IN THE INDUSTRY
Providing a wide array of information services to clients requires a diverse and well-educated workforce. The majority
of workers in computer systems design and related services are professional and related workers, such as computer
systems analysts, computer engineers, and computer programmers. This occupational group accounts
for 59 percent of the jobs in the industry, reflecting the emphasis on high-level technical skills and creativity. By
2012, the share of professional and related occupations is expected to be even greater, while the share of office and
administrative support jobs, currently accounting for 14 percent of industry employment, is projected to fall.
Programmers write, test, and maintain the detailed instructions, called programs or software, that computers must
follow to perform their functions. These specialized programs tell the computer what to do—for example, which information
to identify and access, how to process it and what equipment to use. Custom programmers write these commands by breaking
down each step into a logical series, converting specifications into a language the computer understands. While some still
work with traditional programming languages like COBOL, object-oriented programming languages, such as C++ and Java,
computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools, and artificial intelligence shells now are being used to create and
maintain programs. These languages and tools allow portions of code to be reused in programs that require similar routines.
Many programmers also customize a package to clients’ specific needs or create better packages.
Computer engineers design, develop, test, and evaluate computer hardware and related equipment, software programs
and systems. Although programmers write and support programs in new languages, much of the design and development
now is the responsibility of software engineers or software developers. Software engineers
in systems design and related services must possess strong programming skills, but are more concerned with
developing algorithms and analyzing and solving programming problems for specific network systems than with
actually writing code. Computer systems software engineers are primarily engaged in writing, modifying, testing
and developing software to meet the needs of a particular customer. They develop software systems for control and
automation in manufacturing, business and other areas.
Professionals involved in analyzing and solving problems include systems analysts, who study business, scientific
or engineering data processing problems and design new flows of information. Computers need to be connected to
each other and to a control server to allow communication among users, thus enhancing use of their computing power.
Systems analysts tie together hardware and software to give an organization the maximum benefit from its investment
in machines, personnel and business processes. To do this, they may design entirely new systems or add a single
new software application to harness more of the computer’s power. They use data modeling, structured analysis,
information engineering, and other methods. Systems analysts prepare charts for programmers to follow for proper
coding and also perform cost-benefit analyses to help management evaluate the system. They ensure that the system
performs to its specifications and test it thoroughly.
Database administrators determine ways to organize and store data and work with database management
systems software. They set up computer databases and test and coordinate changes to them. Because they also may be
responsible for design implementation and system security, database administrators often plan and coordinate security
Computer and information scientists work as theorists, researchers, or inventors. They apply a higher
level of theoretical expertise and innovation and develop solutions to complex problems relating to computer hardware
and software. Computer and information scientists with advanced backgrounds in security may be employed as cyberspace
security specialists in disaster recovery situations or in custom security software installation.
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. Support specialists may work either within a company or other organization or directly for a
computer hardware and software vendor. They answer telephone calls, analyze problems using automated diagnostic programs
and resolve recurrent difficulties encountered by users.
Other computer specialists include a wide range of related professionals who specialize in operation, analysis,
education, application or design for a particular piece of the system. Many are involved in the design, testing and
evaluation of network systems, such as local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), Internet, and other data
communications systems. Specialty occupations reflect an emphasis on client-server applications and end-user support;
however, occupational titles shift rapidly to reflect new developments in technology.
Network systems and data communications analysts, for example, design, and evaluate network systems,
such as LANs, WANs, and the Internet. 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 group includes
a variety of occupations relating 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 such as speed of access and for approving site content.
Network or computer systems administrators install, configure and support an
organization’s LAN, WAN, network segment or Internet system. They maintain network hardware and software, analyze
problems and monitor the network to ensure availability to system users. Administrators also may plan, coordinate,
and implement network security measures. In some organizations, computer security specialists are responsible
for the organization’s information security.
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; development of computer networks; and implementation
of Internet and intranet sites.
Due, in part, to the robust growth in electronic commerce, a growing number of other workers in this industry is in
sales and related occupations. In order to compete successfully and gain customers and clients in the online world,
the presentation and features of Web sites and other Web-related content becomes increasingly important. The marketing
and sales workers employed in this industry are responsible for promoting and selling the products and services provided
by the various sectors of this industry.
TRAINING AND ADVANCEMENT
Occupations in the computer and data processing services industry require varying levels of education. The
level of education and type of training required depend on employers’ needs. One factor affecting these needs
is changes in technology. In the past, there has been strong demand for workers with skills related to the Internet,
sending employers scrambling to find workers capable of implementing "hot" new technologies. As the job
market for computer specialists has become more competitive, employers have become more selective in the hiring
process. Formerly, employers might hire an applicant with less computer-related education or experience in efforts
to keep up with the fast growth in this industry. Growth in the numbers of qualified workers, as well as shrinking
of the technology job market from its peak in 2000, has made employers more selective, hiring those candidates with
more education and more experience. Another factor driving employers’ needs is the timeframe within which a project
must be completed.
Computer programmers commonly hold a bachelor’s degree; however, there are no universal educational requirements.
Some hold a degree in computer science, mathematics, or information systems, while others have taken special courses
in computer programming to supplement their study in fields such as accounting, inventory control or other areas of
business. Because employers’ needs are so varied, a 2-year degree or certificate may be sufficient for some positions,
so long as applicants possess the right technical skills.
Most computer systems analysts and computer engineers, on the other hand, usually have a bachelor’s or higher degree
and work experience. Many hold advanced degrees in technical fields or a master’s degree in business administration
(MBA) with a concentration in information systems and are specialists in their fields. For systems analyst, programmer-
analyst, or even database administrator positions, many employers seek applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in
computer science, information science or management information systems (MIS). For computer and information scientists,
a doctoral degree generally is required due to the highly technical nature of their work. For some networks systems and
data communication analysts, such as Webmasters, an associate degree or certificate generally is sufficient, although
more advanced positions might require a computer-related bachelor’s degree.
Persons interested in becoming a computer support specialist generally need only an associate degree in a computer-
related field, as well as significant hands-on experience with computers. They also must possess strong problem-
solving and analytical skills as well as excellent communication skills, because troubleshooting and helping others
are such a vital part of the job. And because there is constant interaction on the job with other computer personnel,
customers, or employees, computer support specialists must be able to communicate effectively on paper, via e-mail, or
in person. They also must possess strong writing skills when preparing manuals for employees and customers. As technology
continues to improve, computer support specialists must constantly strive to stay up to date and acquire new skills if
they wish to remain in the field.
Computer and information systems managers usually require a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related occupation, combined
with work experience. Employers, though, often prefer a graduate degree, especially an MBA with technology as a core
The size of the firm and the local demand for workers also may influence training requirements for specific jobs.
Smaller firms may be willing to train informally on the job, whereas larger organizations may pay for formal training
or higher education. For example, many of the marketing and sales workers are able to secure entry-level jobs with
little technical knowledge but quickly learn the technical knowledge necessary for their company and product. With
more formal education, employees may advance to completely different jobs within the industry. Education or training
in a specialty area may provide new opportunities for the worker and allow the establishment to offer new services.
As technological advances in the computer field continue, employers in all areas demand a higher level of skill and
expertise. Employers, hardware and software vendors, colleges and universities, private training institutions, or
professional computing societies offer continuing education and professional development seminars. Technical or
professional certification is a way by which employers ensure the competency or quality of computer professionals.
Certification can be obtained voluntarily, though many vendors now offer or even require professionals who work with
their products to be certified.
Voluntary certification is available through organizations such as the Institute of Certification and Computing
Professionals (ICCP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society. Although
professional certification is not mandatory, it may provide a jobseeker a competitive advantage. ICCP offers the
Certified Computing Professional (CCP) designation to those who have at least 2 years of experience and a college
degree. Candidates must pass a core examination testing general knowledge, plus exams in two specialty areas, or in
a specialty area and two computer programming languages. The IEEE Computer Society recently created a certification
process for software engineers who pass an examination.
Entry-level computer programmers usually start working with an experienced programmer, updating existing code,
generating lines of one portion of a larger program, or writing relatively simple programs. They then advance to
more difficult programming and may become project supervisors or move into higher management positions within the
organization. Many programmers who work closely with systems analysts advance to systems analyst positions.
Systems analysts may begin working with experienced analysts or may deal with only small systems or one aspect of
a system. They also may move into supervisory positions as they gain further education or work experience. Systems
analysts who work with one type of system, or one aspect or application of a system, can become specialty consultants
or move into management positions. Computer engineers and scientists who show leadership ability also can become
project managers or advance into management positions, such as manager of information systems or chief information
officer. Technical 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.
Consulting is an attractive 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. Many of the largest firms today have subsidiaries that offer specialized services to the
host company and to outside clients. Large consulting and computer firms often will hire inexperienced college graduates
and put them through intensive, company-based programs that train them to provide such services.
Many experienced workers also have opportunities to move into sales positions as they gain knowledge of specific products.
The emergence of various forms of electronic commerce has resulted in efforts by technical workers to make Web sites and
content appealing to potential customers, so that they become comfortable conducting transactions over the Internet.
Computer programmers who adapt prepackaged software for accounting organizations may use their specialized knowledge to
sell such products to similar firms.
Employees in the computer systems design and related services industry generally command higher earnings than the
national average. All production or non-supervisory workers in the industry averaged $1,103 a week in 2002,
significantly higher than the average of $506 for all industries. This reflects the concentration of professionals
and specialists who often are highly compensated for their specialized skills or expertise. Given the pace at which
technology advances in this industry, earnings can be driven by demand for specific skills or experience. Workers in
segments of the industry that offer only professional services have even higher average earnings because there are
fewer less skilled, lower paid workers in these segments.
As one might expect, education and experience influence earnings as well. For example, annual earnings of computer
software engineers ranged from less than $43,750 for the lowest 10 percent to more than $113,590 for the highest 10
percent in 2002. 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, annual earnings of computer
and information systems managers ranged from less than $55,620 for the lowest 10 percent to more than $145,600 for
the highest 10 percent in 2002. Earnings also are affected by other factors, such as size, location, and type of
establishment, hours and responsibilities of the employee and level of sales.
Unionization is rare in the computer systems design and related services industry; fewer than 2 percent of all
workers are union members or are covered by union contracts, compared with 15 percent of workers throughout
The computer systems design and related services industry grew dramatically throughout the 1990s, as employment
more than doubled. And despite recent job losses in certain sectors, this remains one of the 10 fastest growing
industries in the Nation. Wage and salary employment is expected to grow 55 percent by the year 2012, compared
with only 16 percent growth projected for the entire economy. Given the rate at which the computer systems design
and related services industry is expected to grow and the increasing complexity of technology available, job
opportunities will be extremely favorable for most workers. The best opportunities will be for professional and
related occupations, reflecting their growth and the continuing demand for higher level skills to keep up with
changes in technology.
An increasing reliance on information technology, combined with falling prices of computers and related hardware,
means that individuals and organizations will continue to turn to computer systems design and related services
firms to maximize the return on their investments in equipment and to fulfill their growing computing needs.
Such needs include the expansion of electronic commerce, a growing reliance on the Internet, faster and more
efficient internal and external communication and the implementation of new technologies and applications. With
increasing global competition and rising costs, organizations must be able to obtain and manage the latest
information in order to make business decisions. At the same time, employment growth may be tempered somewhat by
an increase in contracting out more routine services abroad, where labor costs are lower, as companies strive to
remain competitive. For example, firms have been able to cut costs by shifting more support services operations
abroad to countries with highly educated workers who have strong technical skills. However, the trend towards
contracting out work will adversely affect employment of only certain types of workers, such as programmers and
computer support specialists, because much of the work integrating and designing systems needs to be done onsite.
Within the computer systems design and related services industry, projected growth varies by sector. The demand
for networking and the need to integrate new hardware, software, and communications technologies will drive the
demand for consulting and integration. A need for more customized applications development and support and services
to assist users will drive demand for applications development and facilities support services. And, as more
individuals and organizations are conducting business electronically, the importance of maintaining system and
network security will increase. Recent events have made society more conscious of the vulnerability of technology
and the Internet. The increasing need for security related to information technology will expand employment
opportunities for individuals involved in cyberspace security services such as disaster recovery services, custom
security programming and security software installation services.
This increased need for security will help to create more jobs in the computer systems design and related
services industry. Security specialists will be employed more often to make judgments on a system’s vulnerability.
Custom programmers and designers will be asked to help develop new antivirus software, programs, and procedures as
preemptive measures to keep "hackers" out and systems virus free. Therefore, employment of security
analysts and consultants with security experience and expertise should rise rapidly.
New growth areas will continue to arise from rapidly evolving technologies and business forces. The expansion of
the Internet, the proliferation of Web sites and "mobile" technology such as wireless Internet have created a demand
for a wide variety of new products and services, including online services, network design services and a range of
specialized consulting. For example, the expansion of the wireless Internet, known as WiFi, brings a new aspect of
mobility to information technology. This new technology will allow people to stay connected anywhere anytime, in
restaurants, shops, hotels and even on airplanes. As individuals and businesses rely more on more compact, hand-held
computers and wireless Internet connections, it will be necessary to integrate the current computer systems with this
more mobile new technology. The expansion of this technology in the next 10 years will lead to an increased need for
"mobility consultants" or service firms that can help companies design and integrate computer systems so
that they will be compatible with one another.
The way the Internet is used is constantly changing, along with the products, services, and personnel required to
support new applications. Expanding electronic commerce changed the way companies transact business, enabling markets
to expand and an increasing array of services to be provided to customers. And, as the amount of computer-stored
information grows, organizations will continue to look for ways to tap the full potential of their vast stores of data.
Demand for an even wider array of services should increase as companies continue to expand their capabilities, integrate
new technologies and develop new applications. As there are more innovations and new technology is released, there will
be a steady need for computer systems facilities support services to provide assistance to the users.
Given the increasingly widespread use of information technologies and the overall rate of growth expected for the
entire industry, most occupations should continue to grow rapidly, although some will do so faster than others. As
firms continue to install sophisticated computer networks, set up Internet and intranet sites and engage in electronic
commerce, the most rapid growth will occur among computer specialists such as systems analysts, network and computer
systems administrators, computer support specialists and computer and information systems managers. Employment of
programmers should continue to expand, but more slowly than that of other occupations, as the proportion of programmers
decreases in relation to other computer specialists.
Industry data is republished with permission by the Bureau of Labor Statistics