IT Strategy Assumptions for 2010

IT leaders should expect that 2010 will bring three underlying premises related to strategy execution.

First, IT is going to work as hard in 2010 as it did in 2009–if not harder. In 2008 and through the early parts of 2009, many companies laid off IT personnel and asked others in IT to pick up the slack. And while it feels like IT unemployment is ridiculously high, it’s not nearly as bad in comparison to our business counterparts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for “Management and Professional Occupations” areas (which includes IT) is 4.1 percent. The overall national unemployment rate is still hovering at 10 percent. Therefore, while IT unemployment is relatively high in comparison to recent years, it’s in better shape than most of other areas.

And when hiring does pick up, it is likely to be in business areas first–to help support the potential of renewed business growth. So I expect that 2010 will be another year when IT will be asked to work hard in execution of strategy–without the support of additional IT staff.

Second, the stigma that working from home equals “slacking” will continue to die a slow death. I saw more quality work being done in 2009 by my clients outside of the physical office than I have in my career. IT is working a ton without additional staffing. To adjust to this new norm of IT workloads, we’ve become smarter about how we work. To get the job done, in addition to regular office/face time, we use instant message tools, cell phones, iPhones, laptops, videoconference tools, etc.

IT will never fully displace face-time with technology, but there is a large chunk of work that can be done anywhere, using the right technology. The traditional 8-to-5 job has long since been dead–IT (and non-IT) employees are now on the job 24×7. Managers need to continue to adjust their thinking to judge not the medium by which the goal is achieved (in office or out of office), but rather the quality and timeliness of the achievement.

Finally, effective IT leaders will actively market their IT strategy throughout 2010. In 2009, businesses largely tabled strategy in favor of “survival.” Budgets for 2010 are still largely focused on getting by with less.  However, with any renewed business growth in the later portions of this year, 2011 could potentially bring more strategic initiatives than the prior two years combined. 

If that happens, it will be critical that CIOs actively stay connected to where the business growth is coming from (what products/services, which geographies, acquisitions, etc.,) and build and market strategies to meet the potential business growth.

This could mean more data warehouses to understand gross margins within product/service lines and geographies to help the business make decisions on investment opportunities. It could be more effective lead-tracking processes and systems to measure the time and steps it takes to turn a prospect into a customer. It may mean building more robust extranets to provide information and processing for investors. IT touches practically every aspect of the business, so the ideas should be countless.

Without effectively marketing these activities, IT leaders will miss the opportunity to be a “strategic partner” for the business. And great opportunity exists for this strategic partnership to be executed upon profitably–particularly whenever the next business growth cycle occurs. The key is to be firmly attached to the business, and to proactively market potential system ideas to support the business.

This year will undoubtedly be better for businesses than 2008 and 2009–especially if you subscribe to the theory that the stock market is six months ahead of the economy itself (noting that the S&P is currently ~65 percent above its 2009 lows).

However, it will present many of the aforementioned challenges and opportunities. But for the first time in a while it feels like the glass is more full than empty. CIOs and their teams must be ready to capitalize via excellent strategy and strategy execution.

Jay Bahel is CIO Services Solution group leader for Project Leadership Associates in Chicago and a former CIO with the Brunswick Corporation.

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