New Year's is a great occasion for taking pause to reassess priorities, needs, and wants. As we enter what looks to be a trying 2009, such a pause is even more critical. IT resources will be limited and business pressures higher. But that doesn't mean you withdraw or go into reactive mode. In tough times, being clear on your priorities is even more important, as everything you do is more critical. So InfoWorld asked its CTO Council member and its cadre of expert contributors for their top New Year's resolutions to give the tech industry a list that we hope will help you make the most of your 2009 priorities.
1. Get out of IT mode. For IT managers, now is a time when the classical management skills and priorities may need to outweigh IT considerations. "Your opinions need to be part of the mix in order for your business to survive and thrive -- so put them out there," advises CTO Council member Gene Rogers, chief technologist for advanced network and space systems at Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems group.
Bob Lewis, blogger and author of Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, seconds Rogers' sentiments: "Eliminate any and all IT projects: There are no IT projects. Every project is about improving how the business operates, or what's the point?" What does that mean? Lewis explains it thusly: "If the project is considered complete when the software has been put into production, it's an IT project and needs to be redefined. If it's considered complete when the users have been trained in how to operate the new software, it's an IT project. It's a business improvement project only if it includes redefinition of how the business is supposed to run, if users are trained in how to perform their new responsibilities using the new software, and if the project isn't finished until the business is successfully operating differently and better."
2. Slay sacred cows. The difficulties projected for 2009 present a rare opportunity to attack situations that are off-limits during good times. CTO Council member Igor Shindel, an independent consultant, suggests that this year is the time to replace Microsoft Office, swap out Microsoft Exchange, or replace Oracle Database as part of an effort to reduce long-term costs. These complex technologies are hard to get rid of because organizations must accept reduced feature sets and will perceive a higher risk in letting them go. But the payoff is worth it, he says, so "this is the year to tackle these projects."
IT will also face a monetary objection to such changes, notes Jon Williams, CTO of NBC Universal's iVillage unit. That objection: The company has invested a lot in these systems, so you can't just toss them. In fact, Williams notes, IT will be under pressure to stick with such complex systems, even if they are the wrong long-term option.
3. Get smarter about IT spend and delivery. This is a perennial resolution, but it easily falls by the wayside as both technologists and business users fall in love with new capabilities from the latest and greatest whatever. "We need to bolster our emphasis on quality," notes CTO Council member Glenn Ricart, managing director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Center for Advanced Technology. "With the budgetary cutbacks, people are being asked to do more with less, and too often the result is lower quality of delivery. That really hurts the IT organization's credibility and can start a downward spiral. It's better to do the same or slightly less but do it very well, then top management will have confidence that they'll get additional top-notch service if they add to your budget," he says.
Blogger Bill Snyder has advice on two ways to accomplish this resolution. First, squeeze every IT dollar. "Make sure that any business unit or employee requesting a purchase can explain how it will contribute to profitability. Demand specifics, not generalizations," he says. Second, "hire slowly, fire even slower. It's tempting to cut costs by cutting personnel, and sometimes that's necessary. But remember that losing experienced personnel can cost a business in the long run. Institutional memory is precious."