Will IT Weather Stormy Economic Conditions?

Since the dawn of the computer age, information technology in the United States has held a certain air of self-satisfaction–and with good reason. IT has helped companies do business in a quicker, more efficient and better-informed fashion.

Technology has created a challenging and lucrative employment category, one that has attracted talent from around the world, most of them believing that anyone serious about IT needed to be in the United States. Indeed, other nations have looked to our cutting-edge IT departments and technology vendors for innovation and best practices.

But the country’s dominant standing as the undisputed IT leader is in jeopardy, as the rapidly developing global economy has U.S. business-technology leaders glancing in the rearview mirror. Fast-rising energy and oil prices, the falling value of the dollar, and the emergence of new global economic powers such as China and India–not to mention Russia and parts of Latin America–are among the developments combining to test the mettle of IT leaders here.

Despite these daunting challenges, nearly 90 percent of U.S. corporate executives have accepted the inevitability of globalization, according to a recent study conducted by business process consultancy EquaTerra. “They understand that globalization is here to stay,” says Stan Lepeak, EquaTerra’s managing director of research. “The question is, How do you live with it, and what do you do about it?”

Sadly, many CIOs are taking a wait-and-see approach. Just 6 percent of U.S. CIOs want to take the lead in adopting new technologies, whereas 19 percent of CIOs in China seek such leadership, according to a recent survey of 500 global CIOs conducted by Accenture. Conversely, 54 percent of American CIOs said they’re comfortable being a follower in adopting new technologies, while just 27 percent of Chinese CIOs were content to follow.

Admittedly, the challenges American CIOs face are numerous, starting with a shortage of IT talent. Not only are the overseas IT professionals who’ve traditionally flocked here finding more demand for their skills in their own countries, but as companies with global aspirations pop up in China, India and beyond, American IT pros also are finding more overseas opportunities. Those career options are made more attractive by the fact that the falling value of the dollar has led to increasingly competitive overseas IT salaries. However, from business’s point of view, that makes offshore outsourcing more expensive.

This trend further aggravates an American market that’s been stretched by immigration restrictions–many of them put in place after 9/11–that limit the importation of skilled IT workers. Pile on the declining numbers of computer science majors in U.S. universities, and it’s easy to see why it’s so difficult for IT execs to fill key positions.

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