First off, let's raise a glass to IBM. Good old, boring IBM is just what the tech industry, and probably the economy at large, needs right now. While other companies (Microsoft comes to mind here) are busy chasing games, consumer electronics and even Yahoo, IBM has stuck to its strengths. If you are a business looking to get the biggest bang out of your tech buck, then IBM will probably fit somewhere in the picture. You might not end up choosing IBM for your data center upgrade, or your middleware, or your foray into social applications, or your hosting or your outsourcing, but you can go deal with the men (and women) in Blue to get a feel for your options. Options as in cost options.
In the face of a current economic crisis where it appears that a bankrupt Iceland could get sold to Russia (or at least leased on a short-term basis), IBM delivered a set of financials that calmed the market a bit.
And let's also raise a glass to Symantec and Oracle. Both those companies have decided to loosen the purse strings and go buy a couple of companies. Symantec bought MessageLabs for $1 billion or so, and Oracle bought Primavera (disclosure: Primavera was part of the Insight Ventures portfolio that also includes Ziff Davis Enterprise, which owns eWEEK). If you are a company with money, this is a good time to be rounding out your product portfolio. If you are a startup living on venture capital, this is a good time to get your mind right about your company's valuation in a faltered economy.
So much for the vendors. Where does the current financial meltdown leave the tech worker? If you are at one of the big financial firms now on the government dole, you know that while there certainly aren't any new initiatives around, the IT department is still required to sort out the good money from the bad debt. Of course, those were also the technology systems that should have been in place in the first place, but IT as a rule does what it is told and I don't think there were any CEOs telling IT to make sure to keep track of where the bodies were buried. The whole derivative business grew so fast—and like mushrooms loved to thrive in the dark—that it will be a long time before this mess gets sorted out. In the meantime, IT will be required to meld all the systems that will have to come together from acquisition and government takeover.
Beyond the financial sector, you are going to see IT play two important roles. Role One will be the implementer of an overall financial tightening-up to make sure the bonehead moves that were part of the financial sector are not at play in other economic sectors. CEOs and CFOs are going to want to know where every dollar is, where those dollars are coming from and where they are going. You are not going to do that with an abacus.
The second role will be using IT to conserve resources. The more systems (including power, transportation and real estate) you can bring into the digital domain, the better for your company and you. In some ways, an economic crunch brings more job security as it is unlikely your company is going to go on some big outsourcing binge with a payoff years down the road or—in the hardware arena—is going to go out and buy a bunch of new hardware. You are going to be required to keep the old systems running for another year or so beyond the replacement life.