Here are some of the key trends I see in 2009 for the corporate IT department. For consultants such as myself, this will have a major influence on how we can continue to provide high value to our internal IT partners by providing services and solutions that contribute to the value proposition for the corporate IT department in 2009.
Corporate IT Departments Will Lag Behind in Upgrades
With budgets tightening, corporate IT departments will take the hit in upgrades for both hardware and software. IT departments will be asked to do more with less and those departments who may have planned on an Office 2007 upgrade, a SharePoint 2003 to 2007 conversion project, a .NET framework 1.1 to 2.0/3.0/3.5 upgrade project, server refreshes, etc. will be asked to defer them to save costs.
Scrutiny on Capital and Cash Flow
Typically, large scale expenditures can be amortized over a 3-5 year period. For example, if a Director IT needs to purchase $500K in new servers, they can typically budget these over a 3-5 year amortization period so they don't get hit with the entire cost in year one. However, from a cash flow perspective, the money still gets spent and in cases where cash is tight (e.g. credit crunches) these types of cash outlays will be dramatically curtailed.
As a result, this will lead to arrangements with providers where costs can be paid on a monthly basis, e.g. leases, software as a service, outsourcing, financing, fee for service, etc. where cash flows out of the organization in a more even way than a large capital expenditure.
Long Term Consulting Under Attack, Short Term Consulting Will Increase
As budgets tighten, the following tends to happen during the budget planning cycle:
- Full time hires are deferred
- High cost consultants are targeted
- Projects have to show very quick ROI
If you are a $200 / hr consultant that has been working on a project for 2 years and the project will continue for another 2 years, then expect that cost to be reviewed and for department managers to try and squeeze out consultants and replace them with cheaper internal resources.
However, because full-time hires become blocked, the only way to get new work done in the short term tends to be through direct consulting costs. In addition, because the business does not have long term visibility they will be hesitant to take on a full-time resource as a long term commitment. If the business stakeholder can justify the ROI in the short term, they will tend to outsource the work simply because the Corporate IT department cannot hire any full time resources to do the work. In addition, outsourcing the work as a fixed cost to a consulting firm is less risk and the cost is directly attached to the cost of the project, making it more tangible for a business stakeholder than a resource hire.
For both revenue and profit, the goal for 2009 will be to optimize as much as possible. For example, technologies such as SEO, analytics, data mining, reporting, CRM (especially for those who already have an existing platform), channel management, marketing optimization, etc. will sell very well to organizations who have over the past 2-3 years have been growing their customer base but now need to focus on retention, optimization of marketing dollars and efficiency. Technologies that can help do this will continue to get the green light as they produce ROI faster than brand new initiatives and they are less risk for a CIO who is under budget pressure.
Layoffs for Many, Indispensable Positions for a Few
In tough times, there are typically layoffs. Depending on the speed of action required, layoffs are many times done without proper planning and project/application coverage (the worst case is where you see companies having to hire back the people they just laid off on contract!). For those who are laid off, it means that they are now looking for a job. But for those who are left standing, they can find themselves now indespensable where there used to be three people who knew how to fix an application and now there is only one. In some cases, the one left is a consultant!
For those who are in this position, it provides leverage to those left behind. If you are the only developer who now has access to source code and can run a build, you were kept because they couldn't afford to dump you. If you can stretch to grab the work that was being done by other developers and demonstrate the flexibility and tenacity to help clean up the mess inevitably left behind by these changes then this will be looked at favourably by the company.
For consultants, there are opportunities to fill the gaps left behind in the rush to lay off staff through short term and long term consulting arrangements, especially if the consultant has had previous experience with the applications in the organization. There are also opportunities to pitch alternatives to lay-offs without adequate transition through outsourcing arrangements. A service company can provide flexibility in resource ramp-up or ramp down that is difficult for an internal department to manage especially in a time of crisis. In addition, a consulting company has the advantage of being able to work in stealth, allowing for a Corporate IT Director for example to quietly outsource key functions to an outsource provider while planning a lay off so as to avoid disruption and continue service levels.
Opportunity for Entrepreneurialism
There is an opportunity for IT departments to re-invigorate through a focus on entrepreneurialism. For those IT leaders who can show the business a clear plan to short term revenue, increased profit, etc. this will tend to get more attention than more themes such as scalability, efficiency, etc. Entrepreneurs focus on delivering high value services on a shoe-string budget - this is what is required in an economic down turn.
Business stakeholders will also be more apt to listen when they are also hungrier for more revenue. For example, many sales businesses will find their traditional sources of revenue tapped out and will be looking around for new revenue sources. If the Corporate IT Department has some creativity and can partner effectively, they can help provide some great new ideas for using Web 2.0 technologies, creating online campaigns, optimizing CRM data, using data mining techniques, etc. to squeeze more revenue out of existing channels or to open up new ones.
For consultants, this is the ONLY way to sell business in 2009 - either demonstrate how to squeeze more revenue/profit out of existing channels or show how a very small investment in a new channel can lead to large growth potential. Be prepared to take risks and be entrepreneurial with your customers in how they pay for your services, how much risk you take on, etc. and this will also be attractive to customers who are hesitant to spend money.
Focus on Business Solutions that Make Revenue or Profit, Not Technology
This is always the case with business stakeholders, but in times of restraint this will be even more pronounced: Corporate IT Departments who are focused on generating concrete business centric solutions that create revenue or profit opportunities will be prioritized.
If you are a Corporate IT Department or one of its service providers and your focus is heavy technology buzzword projects like: SOA, Cloud Computing, Web 2.0, Architecture, Software Development Life Cycle, Enterprise Data Warehouse, ERP, etc. then you will be in trouble in 2009. For example, at one of the banks here in Canada for example, I know that their list of thirty major IT has been cut to less than ten for 2009.
Projects where existing horizontal technologies in place are now leveraged to create additional value will have significantly more priority. For example, we have many customers who have previously bought Microsoft SharePoint 2007 but aren't leveraging it effectively or maximizing its use. Incremental investments in adding verticalized and targeted applications on top of this already existing investment will show quicker pay off than investments in additional infrastructure technologies.