Thin is in

The panicky voices crying out for an IT recession have gradually died away, replaced with what seems to be a cautious sort of optimism. But it’s increasingly clear that business-as-usual is a thing of the past for regional IT departments.

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By  Imthishan Giado Published  July 12, 2009

The panicky voices crying out for an IT recession have gradually died away, replaced with what seems to be a cautious sort of optimism. But it’s increasingly clear that business-as-usual is a thing of the past for regional IT departments.

As I bemoaned rather loudly last month, there’s precious little in the way of Middle-East specific data available from independent analysts to verify the state of the regional IT market. I also called out for regional IT leadership to step up to the plate and show other enterprises how they’re dealing with tighter restrictions and increased pressure to deliver projects faster and under-budget.

To no one’s surprise, there’s been no answer. That’s probably most enterprises in the region are still trying to figure out a solution to the same problem. There’s a finite limit to how much non-essential staff they can let go, how many services they can outsource and how long they can stretch ageing hardware. Once past that line, CIOs are going to have to think about doing things differently – and that for this region at least, is the path typically less travelled.

So the last thing a CIO wants to do is go on record about how effectively he or she has cut costs – and then next week finds that they have to let some staff go or silently kill orders for new hardware. The situation is not helped by the fact that most vendors continue to do business here the same way they have for decades – sell big iron on the basis of “new features + 1” or that hoary old chestnut, “do less with more”. The big projects that they look for – especially in the retail sector – are not going to be as ambitious in their scope if money isn’t flowing into the rest of the business.

In the interim, it seems, a lot of vendors seem to have deserted some verticals in preference to others. Regional government has become more popular, as they’re widely perceived as still having spare cash to spend – while banking seems to be in doldrums. But again, these are stop-gap solutions. Eventually vendors will run out of verticals to turn to, and then they’ll have to rethink their business models.

To be honest though, I don’t think there’s going to be any sort of ‘Eureka!’ moment where we turn the corner and we’re suddenly out of the financial crisis, or CIOs hit upon a magic formula to save money. More likely, it’s happening already and we just haven’t seen the signs yet.

Take for example, the humble BlackBerry. In interviews for my internal security feature this month, a number of experts claimed it’s now the single most dangerous element within an enterprise with regards to data leakage – even more than e-mail or laptops. To my mind, the fact that data thieves have moved on these kinds of devices is a sign that the humble PDA has finally hit the big-time – and that enterprises are increasingly relying on these kinds of devices to store their data. That’s bad news for vendors of laptops, but good news for mobile vendors which have been waiting years for these devices to integrate more efficiently with the enterprise.

Certification is another hot topic at the moment, as companies look to standardise their policies and procedures around internationally-accepted standards, rather than the ad-hoc methodologies they’re been making do with for years. Again, it’s bad news for companies who sell infrastructure by the pound, but good news for consultants who can spot inefficiencies within an organisation.

If we extrapolate further, it means that the enterprises of tomorrow are inevitably going to look very different from the corporate titans of today. They’ll be slimmer from top to bottom, with fewer overheads, more automation and better response time to internal customers. Decision makers will have models of the entire organisation available to them, allowing CIOs to ‘virtually’ implement changes to applications and systems and see how they affect the entire organisation.

Look no farther than Google’s announcement of a new OS to challenge the Windows leviathan. I’m willing to bet that more than a few end-users here would be interested in an enterprise edition that works with cloud-based applications and needs less in the way of hardware to support, while consuming fewer resources than traditional power-hungry desktops and notebooks.

Author William Goldman famously explained the science of filmmaking in Hollywood in 1983 with the statement, “Nobody knows anything.” It’s a maxim that holds true today – but what we do know for certain is that the enterprises of 2010 will be markedly different and better for it.

Imthishan Giado is the deputy editor of Arabian Comupter News.

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