FUD is crud

It’s tough out there, huh?

An uncertain economy swiftly turned into a ruinous recession, a climate some thought would send business executives of all stripes into a panic. Fear, uncertainty and doubt seemed primed for a comeback.

But in 2009, at least in IT management, FUD is crud. The new year offers IT organizations a chance to refocus their efforts–and maybe even reinvent themselves and the value they deliver to their businesses.

CIO Insight’s upcoming research study on 2009 IT spending will shine a light on how businesses are handling the economic crunch. But we already know from various research firms–and common sense–that budgets will be cut. That means CIOs must put on their business-executive hats and start making some tough decisions.

But where to cut? It varies from company to company, particularly when it comes to determining which projects are essential and which ones aren’t. But if you’ve been grappling with costly, endless projects that aren’t delivering any value, your best bet is to cut your losses.

Then there’s the debate over new investment. Budget cuts may render some CIOs unable to investigate new tools, but for those lucky ones left with some expendable capital, it’s essential to consider making some bets. Too many CIOs tend to run away from risky endeavors, but as experts such as Howard Rubin have noted, investing during troubling times can help your company increase its competitive advantage. Ignore it, and it’ll cost you even more to catch up.

And retaining top IT talent takes on a new life in the downturn. There might not be an endless supply of job openings out there, but make no mistake: The best workers can always find something better.

CIOs and their deputies should always be concerned with keeping their best workers on board–it’s a perennial top priority named in the Society for Information Management’s annual survey. Plenty talk about it; those who take action know the importance of training their workers, exposing them to the business and giving them opportunities to experiment. If you haven’t paid close attention to retention, you’d better get on the case.

But it’s not all on CIOs–IT pros of all stripes need to do their part. Productivity is key in this economic climate, and showing your ability to do more with less will certainly be noticed and appreciated by your bosses. Now can be the time where lower-level IT workers can show their stuff–and maybe catapult themselves upward.

But the best advice I can offer comes from those who have managed successfully.

Kimberly-Clark CIO Ramon Baez said now is not the time to shy away from being proactive. “The last thing you want to be doing is hiding because you think the business will cut your costs,” he said. “Forget about that–get out there and say, ‘What can we do to help?'”

Jim Knight, CIO of insurer Chubb urges IT leaders to be “resourceful” by reaching out to business partners to identify their needs. “The more I was able to reach out across boundaries to get something done, the better I performed,” Knight said.

And Paul Johnson, CIO of BB&T, said he’ll focus on creating value for his financial services firm. “We have more of a short-term focus on generating as much value as possible in 2009 and probably into 2010,” he said. “There are projects where we say, ‘If you can’t do it quickly, you don’t do it now.'”

Solid advice from a trio of successful IT executives. Now it’s up to IT leaders to take heed and make the best of 2009.

Brian P. Watson is Editor in Chief of CIO Insight

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