Budget Infusions Perk Up IT

The SIMposium conference presents an upbeat picture, despite fears about globalization and outsourcing.

After one of the darkest periods in its half-century history, the IT profession matters again.

Budgets are healthy, staffers are being hired and many executives are no longer thinking of cost cutting, but are thinking of building new applications to deliver a strategic edge to their corporations.

That message emerged from the annual Society for Information Managements SIMposium conference Sept. 17-20. Founded 38 years ago, SIM is made up of some 3,000 senior U.S. and Canadian IT executives.

"We havent seen anything yet," said industry legend Max Hopper, president of consultancy Max D. Hopper Associates and known as the father of Sabre, the worlds first computerized airline reservation system.

In his address to attendees, Hopper surveyed a field that had been bloodied by a series of reversals. "I think Y2K is one of the worst things that ever happened to our profession. The hype about the dangers and the subsequent nonevent created a false sense of security about the importance of IT," Hopper said.

If that werent enough, he said, the bursting of the dot-com bubble, Sept. 11, 2001, and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act all conspired to force executives to focus on cost cutting, disaster recovery and compliance rather than on experimenting with new technologies for strategic advantage.

One technology that SIM members are planning to implement is Web services, which topped the to-do lists of members in the groups annual survey.

Web services were not among the top six technologies in the previous years survey. The results of the survey also showed increases in budgets and salaries.

"The tide has turned; the economy is great; were hiring and paying more to ourselves and our staffs," said Jerry Luftman, professor and associate dean of graduate IS programs at Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, N.J., and SIM vice president of academic community affairs, in a presentation to members.

Security, which had been at the top of the to-do list for two years, dropped to third place in this years survey, Luftman said. This probably reflects the progress that pros believe they have made in the past several years to make their systems less vulnerable to attack, he said.

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Among concerns tracked by the survey, alignment of technology with business strategy was No. 1. No. 2 was attracting and retaining IT professionals. Luftman noted that attracting and retaining staff was not on the list of the top 10 concerns three years ago—a fact that reflects an ongoing resurgence in hiring.

"Well-educated, skilled workers are in demand," said Steve Pickett, vice president and CIO at Penske, in Detroit, and current SIM president.

"Were going to universities and telling people there is a future in this field. Students need to take an IT and business curriculum."

John Thompson, president of retail sales and former CIO of Crossmark, a retail services company in Plano, Texas, said the need for educated workers is not being lessened by the trend to send work overseas and that globalization is not having a negative impact on careers.

The SIM survey found offshore outsourcing currently consumes 4.2 percent of budgets, up from 3.1 percent last year. That number will increase to 4.8 percent next year, according to the survey.

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