Crystal balls at the ready

So you’ve spent the 2006 IT budget and you’re hoping that there will be a little bit more in the corporate kitty for 2007. While the ‘more for less’ IT marketing message emanating from the major vendors sounds irresistible, the financial reality for many Middle East CIOs still revolves around project prioritisation. The best CIOs will have already whipped out their crystal balls and worked out exactly where they will be spending next year’s budget.

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By  Stuart Wilson Published  December 17, 2006

|~||~||~|So you’ve spent the 2006 IT budget and you’re hoping that there will be a little bit more in the corporate kitty for 2007. While the ‘more for less’ IT marketing message emanating from the major vendors sounds irresistible, the financial reality for many Middle East CIOs still revolves around project prioritisation. The best CIOs will have already whipped out their crystal balls and worked out exactly where they will be spending next year’s budget.

As always, when it comes to spending money, there are plenty of people on hand to give CIOs some advice — but let’s be honest, not all of them are totally impartial. By all means listen to those vendors and integrators pitching their latest technologies and solutions, but never lose sight of the fact that these people have a vested interest. It really is a case of caveat emptor and that’s why many CIOs are on the lookout for solid independent advice from consultancies and industry analysts at this time of year.

And the industry analysts are more than happy to play ball. Gartner has already come up with its own set of CIO resolutions for 2007, outlining what CIOs should start doing, what they should do more of, what they should stop doing and what they need to learn. Some of their recommendations may come as a bit of a surprise to CIOs in the Middle East.

Those CIOs anticipating a turgid document banging on about service oriented architecture (SOA), dynamic resource allocation, software as a service, outsourcing and next generation datacentres, will be sorely disappointed by Gartner’s 2007 advice. While these are all undoubtedly important technologies, Gartner’s CIO recommendations focus more on the softer side of the CIO role — clear evidence that the position now revolves as much around business acumen as it does in-depth technical knowledge.

Creating an IT leadership succession plan may not be top of the list for many CIOs — especially those with overstretched staff resources — but it is something that no decent manager can afford to ignore. Future IT managers will also need skill traits more common amongst women such as multi-disciplinary experience, business skills and proven change management success, according to the report.

The environmental impact of IT is also poised to take on more importance in 2007. We’re starting to see a push towards greener IT products, the phasing out of certain component materials and a growing awareness of how environmental responsibility fits in with wider corporate social responsibility (CSR). CIOs also need to start thinking more strategically about electrical efficiency, recycling and the deployment of technologies that allow an organisation to reduce the need for employees to travel such as video conferencing.

Now these two areas — the role of women and the environmental impact of IT — highlighted by the analysts over at Gartner towers are clearly based on their global perspective. How these trends will translate into specific regions such as the Middle East is another story entirely. Let’s be honest here; to date, the environment has taken a back seat when it comes to corporate strategy for many organisations in the Middle East. And when it comes to the role of women in IT, suffice to say the region is still playing catch-up.

Nevertheless, the Middle East IT sector continues to show an insatiable appetite for progress and change. Talking to the global vendor executives in town for GITEX last month and several points were crystal clear: they were excited by what was happening in the Middle East, invigorated by the cutting-edge projects that were lined up for 2007, and buoyed by the strength of the IT spending environment.

Project prioritisation remains the name of the game and it is the combination of CIOs, IT managers, vendors, integrators and service providers that is charged with making sure that IT systems continue to evolve at lightning pace. Balancing investment priorities with the need to produce tangible results in terms of return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) is never easy.

Crystal balls at the ready; the Middle East enterprise IT sector is in for an exhilarating ride in 2007. What are your project priorities for the year ahead? e-mail stuart.wilson@itp.com||**||

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