by Mike Altendorf

The year of living sensibly

Mar 12, 20095 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

With all this talk of credit crunches, car makers asking for US government bail-outs, job cuts and retail collapses on one hand, and good news from Sainsbury’s and John Lewis and possible printing of money to allow banks to regain liquidity on the other, CIOs must be sitting there wondering which way the year is going to go.

Of course, the possible options range from pretty bad to not that bad for most companies caught up in the long tail of the credit squeeze and that means that, in pure technology terms at least, the likelihood is that 2009 will be a rather dull year with little in the way of speculative investment or bleeding-edge innovation.

For technophiles, it might all turn out to be a tad boring with executives having next to no appetite for spending on the newest gewgaws, but let’s look on the bright side for a moment at least. Gartner’s annual CIO survey published this month suggests that only about one in 10 UK firms plan to spend substantially less (that is, a reduction of 10 per cent) on IT in 2009 than in 2008. Also, as with any downturn or recession, things will be different sector-by-sector, with industries like pharmaceuticals holding steady, and low-cost retailers standing to actually benefit from the change in the weather. There’s no doubt that every cloud has a silver lining if you only look hard enough.

Let’s take the obvious stuff first. Everybody who hasn’t already done so will be virtualising their datacentres (and maybe storage infrastructure and networking) to get best value of what they have already got. Also, this will be a time when many firms catch up with what they have been spending on in the boom years. That means more counting of software licences, ensuring that applications being maintained are actually being used and making sure that the right price is being paid to software and services partners.

There’s still a thirst for web innovation, with interest in new access devices, web applications and multimedia, although not necessarily feeding through to large IT programs. These will have to lead to payback quickly in order to get past the FD but then many web developments replace more expensive behind-the-firewall infrastructure. I expect technologies like Microsoft’s Silverlight, for presenting eye-catching front-ends to applications that run on the web or offline, to do very well. Microsoft shops can get access to Silverlight for little cost, it’s fun to play with, and it puts a new face on your data.

Similarly, another set of technologies that should get a boost are in lightweight, transportable infrastructure. We’re doing quite a lot of work with open-source social networking tools like PHPizabi, as well as with MySpace and Facebook now that they have opened up their respective APIs.

Googleis getting its act together on the business side by recruiting system integrators for Google Apps – disruptive times call for disruptive changes and there is no doubt that Apps is exactly that. I’ve said before that Microsoft is vulnerable to a low-cost competitor, especially among customers that are web-centric and don’t need the vast functionality of Office.

BlackBerryis now the de facto messaging medium of the corporate sector and work will continue on putting applications on handheld devices. And of course, in trendy sectors like media, advertising and events, sales through the iPhone App Store are robust. In other hardware, the low-cost laptops that are pretty well disposable and aimed at email, webby apps and so on will prosper.

However, let’s not pretend that this will not be a year primarily for sweating assets, locking down and making the best of what we have. This economy might have its exceptional bright spots but it’s pretty bad out there.

But maybe that will leave the door open to one other area of endeavour, as CIOs are forced to move to more of a business footing rather than focusing on serving IT needs. They won’t be able to talk about bits and bytes so much and the focus will be on business outcomes. That should lead to more service-based chargeback going on with IT monetising information stored, and work undertaken being mapped back to the business. This will require a sort of business intelligence for within the enterprise to ensure operational excellence that goes beyond uptime and availability statistics for email, internet, WANs, VPNs, data and apps.

Dashboards will only go so far though and CIOs will be asked to contribute to making a better relationship with the business that goes beyond just delivering a project on time. Mercury built a reputation for these ‘IT governance’ tools a few years back before being acquired by HP but I don’t see any standard for tools being used today, rather a mish-mash of process definition and process management tools, SharePoint and web portals for talking to IT metrics.

Good luck in 2009 – and hold tight.