The challenge for IT professionals wanting to maintain their market value often comes down to picking the right technologies and the right projects.

Recruitment firm Randstad has been looking at the hot skills and top growth sectors in the New Zealand technology market this year.

Unsurprisingly, SAP remains top of the totem pole.

Paul Robinson, Randstad's New Zealand manager, says the German business software giant's success here means the demand for staff skilled in SAP enterprise resource planning software will continue to be strong, both from end users and consulting firms.

"Typically when a client decides to do an installation, they will engage a systems integrator to do that. As they go live, they hire people to do the application support," Robinson says.

"The trend in the past few years is a lot of the technical development work is done offshore, so we see more the demand here for functional consultants, the business analyst types."

He says as demand for SAP skills is strong across the Asia-Pacific region, salaries are correspondingly high.

There is also a lot of activity round business intelligence and data warehousing, with increasing demand for high-end professionals with expertise in products such as Cognos, Teradata or and Hyperion.

In application development, employers are looking for experienced developers in languages such as .NET and Java-related platforms, as well as people with expertise in systems integration and messaging technologies.

He says much of this work will be done on a contract basis or through third-party vendors rather than internal teams, and given the shortage of skilled applicants for these roles, rates and salaries are expected to increase for more senior candidates.

"There is still a lot of pent-up demand from the slowdown during the global financial crisis."

The fourth area that will drive the year is data-centre design and management, and the maturing of what is called cloud computing.

"We are seeing big growth in chatter from corporates round cloud," says Richard Talbot, Randstad's solutions director. "There are large investments being made in data centres, with web-oriented technologies in extraordinary demand."

There is also demand for storage experts and people who understand the virtualisation technology used to run multiple servers on shared hardware.

Sovereignty concerns about where data is held means organisations may need "nearshore" data-centre capacity, rather than offshoring all their information to Singapore or the Arizona desert.

"Infrastructure is a real growth area. As people invest, the demand comes for more people in that space."

Australia's $40 billion investment in its Next Generation Network is also creating strong demand in the region.

Robinson says organisations are reluctant to increase salaries for permanent staff but pressure will show up in the contracting market.

"What we see now and expect will increase is more jobs with fewer ideal candidates, so as that work moves to [being done on] contract, it will put pressure on rates.

"We won't see a huge shift in the daily rate initially but it will be an ongoing challenge for clients and prospective contractors," he says.

Robert Walters is also seeing a return of confidence, with pressure on salaries and contract rates set to rise.

In its latest global salary report released last week, the recruiting firm said it saw an increase in permanent recruitment of IT staff in the second half of last year as firms rebuilt teams they slashed during the downturn.

It also saw some larger organisations creating new teams as they looked to grow their businesses again.

Rather than paying higher basic salaries, firms offered bonus incentives and improved packages overall.

Hiring levels were highest in the insurance and financial sectors, which were the first to be hit in the downturn and the first to recover.

But confidence means projects, and projects are more likely to mean contractors.

Robert Walters says shortages are emerging of candidates with niche skill sets such as digital marketers, business analysts and IT professionals with cloud-computing experience.

Business intelligence and social-networking experience will also be in demand.