I've had the opportunity to visit several infrastructure and operations industry events already this year. Each targeted the same basic message: a \n\nreturn to innovation. But I have to wonder, are we really ready for innovation? The last 18 months have been marked by a consistent and constant effort \n\nto demonstrate return on investment (ROI). Why, as we now enter 2010, is there a sudden emphasis on innovation? The answer is what I refer to as \n\n"new shiny object syndrome." As an infrastructure and operations professional, you're used to focusing on new, innovative uses of technology to support the business. However, \n\nthe last 18 months have been anything but innovative. This period was characterized by project budget freezes and 20 percent cuts to your operational \n\nbudget. In fact, infrastructure spend suffered the deepest budget cuts in 2009, with a 16.3 percent reduction from 2008 levels. But all of that changes in 2010. Why? Because infrastructure will see the strongest IT budget growth. Our latest data shows that infrastructure spend \n\nwill grow 9.2 percent in 2010, which is the largest overall growth and well above the 6.6 percent average of other IT products and services. As a result, \n\ninfrastructure spend is not only receiving the most emphasis in 2010, but shows the healthiest year-over-year delta at 25.5 percent.Therein lies the dilemma. That's right, I said dilemma. It goes back to the shiny new object syndrome. As today's VPs of I&O see a \n\nreturn in their budgets they need to prioritize efforts and resist the temptation to go after shiny new infrastructure initiatives, like cloud computing. The most important effort is to make sure the operations side of your house remains in order. Most infrastructure & operations departments are \n\npretty good at focusing on operational efficiency by implementing frameworks like ITIL and deploying millions of dollars in IT service management tools \n\nfrom vendors like HP, IBM, and BMC. But that's not enough. Instead we recommend that you focus on three basic steps:Step 1: Put the "O" back in "I&O" with IT process automation. IT process automation is needed to take I&O to the next level of efficiency. Process automation isnt about reducing labor; it's about diverting \n\nresources so that staff that spends 75% of its time fighting fires can spend more time focused on business operations. We refer to this trend as IT \n\nIndustrialization.Why this is a big deal in 2010: Industrialization is fueled by three trends culminate in 2010: 1) the maturation of IT operations \n\nframeworks like ITIL and Six Sigma; 2) the increased use of more sophisticated IT process automation tools; and 3) an appetite for organizational \n\nchange. What you need to do: It's often hard to change people and process, but in this post-recession era you'll find it's easier to take advantage of \n\nthe crisis we're coming out of and realigning your teams' attitude, behavior, and culture. Stop rewarding your team as heroes that put out fires in IT and \n\nstart motivating them to improve efficiency. The goal is to integrate IT operations with broader business operations. If you do nothing else in 2010, focus \n\non IT automation tools to build a more efficient I&O foundation.Step 2: Revitalize core datacenter gear, starting with the network. After getting your IT operations house in order, you can move to optimizing the datacenter. Use the early wins from IT automation \u2014 often \n\n40% in operation savings \u2014 to fund your architectural refresh in the datacenter. Why this is a big deal in 2010: Most firms update core datacenter gear every seven to 10 years. Chances are your last major upgrade was \n\nin 1999 or 2000 when times were good. Now we're 10 years down the road and the recession \u2014 which temporarily delayed data center \n\nprojects \u2014 is now thawing. Move beyond consolidating and virtualizing server infrastructure and demonstrate that similar optimization efforts can \n\nbe executed throughout the IT stack. What you need to do: Rather than focusing on shiny new datacenter gear, work on collapsing tiers of the network by investing in new 10 \n\nGigE switch platforms; increasing the ratio of virtual machines to physic server ratios beyond 25:1; and finally building out new converged infrastructure \n\nthat focuses on server, network, and storage in a single chassis. Look to IT heavyweights like IBM, HP, and Dell to deliver the most compelling \n\nsolutions, but don't overlook new datacenter plays like Cisco with its EMC\/VMware alliance. If nothing else, start your datacenter optimization with \n\nyour network. Your "throw bandwidth at it" upgrade strategy has outlived its usefulness and you need to revitalize an atrophied network fabric.Step 3: Transform your desktop environment. Finally, after improving operations and re-architecting the datacenter, 2010 will require you go after at least one shiny object: client virtualization. But \n\nthat's just the beginning; the end goal is to transform the endpoint. Why this is a big deal in 2010: I use the "transformation" term lightly as it's often overused in IT. But 2010 is witnessing a confluence of \n\nevents: the consumerization of IT where employees are demanding that their netbooks, Macs, and smartphones are supported by IT; the rise of social \n\ncomputing as a legitimate business medium; the improvements in mobile broadband; and the shift to younger, tech-savvy workforce demographics. This \n\nis the year to rethink your desktop strategy and how you'll make your users, partners, and even customers more productive.What you need to do: Transforming the desktop environment isn't as easy as it sounds. First, you must accurately segment your workforce. \n\nThe two-size-fits-all days of providing either a desktop or laptop are long gone. Now you need to look at mobility and productivity needs to drive the \n\narchitecture. Building a virtual desktop foundation is necessary, but you need to work closely with your security teams to revamp acceptable use \n\npolicies. Also, chances are your remote worker policy is outdated too. To truly transform the endpoint you need to work with latest from Citrix, \n\nVMware, and Microsoft to support access from any device to any application.Seeing a return to your I&O budget is a good thing. The challenge will be prioritizing where you spend your time, energy, and money. Cloud \n\ncomputing \u2014 and other infrastructure "shiny objects" are clearly the future \u2014 but they often take three or more years to bear any fruit. \n\nSure, you'll want to investigate these in 2010, but we feel the key to I&O is to 1) focus on industrialized models; 2) optimize the datacenter plumbing; \n\nand 3) enable new levels of user productivity. Use this three-step prioritization to set your post-recession agenda.Rob Whiteley is a VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, where he heads research for I&O professionals. More on this topic will be \n\nexplored at Forrester's Infrastructure & Operations Forum 2010, March 17-18 in Dallas, Texas. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline.