Planning Trumps Rapid Results

Opinion: When the future of IT is uncertain, it's time to slow down and simplify.

Technology will become more important to your companys future. Thats the good news. The bad news? Your company will cut 20 percent of its IT staff by 2011. In fact, your IT staff might no longer be referred to as an IT staff by then.

That was the word from the Gartner honchos last week at the annual Gartner Symposium/ITxpo held in Orlando, Fla., which this year was focused on the concept of rapid results.

But if "rapid results" was the official theme, "uncertainty" was the unofficial theme.

In an uncertain economic, political and social world, elements of uncertainty were a central component of the good news at the symposium (Microsofts security is getting better), as well as in the cautionary news (Microsoft is way behind in data management).

The uncertainty theme was reinforced by John Mahoney, the chief of research for IT services and management at Gartner. He predicted that by 2011, IT organizations will have 20 percent fewer people; 40 percent fewer in-house technology roles; and twice the number of information, process and business roles.

In place of traditional IT operations, a new model is emerging with a focus on business processes, according to Mahoney. At its furthest development, IT will disappear to become part of embedded groups throughout businesses.

Of course, uncertainty is the fuel by which consulting organizations grow, and Gartner is no exception to that rule.

But the conference has also become an annual gathering place where leading industry executives, analysts and Gartner customers meet to take the measure of the current state of the IT universe.

In discussions with attendees at the conference, CIOs and technology executives tended to be less uncertain than the analysts in terms of where they are steering next years technology dollars.

The world of consulting is frequently aimed at the longer-term outlook, as well as fuzzy concepts of restructuring, organizational change and return on investment.

But among CIOs and tech execs at the Gartner gathering, broad systems integration, management of those systems, better security, regulatory-driven IT spending, and cuts to yearly maintenance and support costs were common among next years project lists.

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Increased deployments of handheld mobile devices and voice over IP were also mentioned. Technology spending tends to be fairly fixed, with single-digit percentage increases planned for 2006.

Those focused CIOs found a friend at the conference in Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd. In his first major appearance as the new boss of HP in the ex-Fiorina era, Hurd promised that under his regime the company will be run using metrics, clear reporting responsibilities between executives instead of a confusing organizational matrix, and a return to the technology roots upon which the company was built.

With HP having been lost for several years in the conceptual mire of "agility," "synergy" and "adaptive systems," Hurds ability to discuss systems management, database-driven business intelligence and a commitment to open systems was well-received by the audience.

And maybe it is Hurd and those project-driven CIOs who provide the right counterpoint to the uncertainty of techs future. In the face of confusion, the best practice may be to simplify, measure and build development plans.

This measured approach will not be marked by rapid results or wholesale organizational change, but it will allow companies to make progress rather than get lost in a maze of false starts and meaningless meetings.

Analyst discussions about the demise of IT departments or the unimportance of technology are great topics for late-night lounge debates. However, companies continue to depend on IT departments to evaluate, deploy and maintain technology systems.

Those same technology systems still provide a fundamental way for companies to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. The most rapid result you can achieve in this age of uncertainty may be accomplished by moving slower, mapping out your goals and then measuring your progress against those goals.

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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