Roundtable: IT Pros Look to 2004

eWEEK Corporate Partners expect IT spending to rise but worry about patches.

In last years Tech Outlook 2003 special report, the outlook was pretty grim. The eWEEK Corporate Partners who participated in a roundtable discussion for that report were looking to make the most of existing products and personnel.

During a roundtable discussion held earlier this month for the Tech Outlook 2004 report and moderated by eWEEK Technology Editor Peter Coffee, the mood was decidedly more upbeat—if still guarded.

There was one big fly in the ointment: patches. The scourge of enterprises last year, patches look to be an issue next year as well. The CPs have implemented patch management systems and, in one case, added personnel to get in front of the problems.

The following is a condensed version of the conversation.

What is the climate right now? Are things getting better than they were when we talked this time last year?

Brorson: The investment cycle is back on track. Companies are beginning to again take a look at the technologies they have in place and to not only upgrade but also look at alternative technologies that will allow them to more broadly deploy some of the e-business technologies, particularly CRM [customer relationship management].

Participating Corporate Partners

Kevin Baradet
CTO, S.C. Johnson School of Management, Cornell University

Ed Benincasa
VP, MIS and Corporate Network Manager, FN Manufacturing Inc.

Bruce Brorson
Associate Professor and IT Program Director, Unniversity of Minnesota, Crookston

Frank Calabrese
Manager of Global Desktop Strategy and Support, Bose Corp.

David Milkovich
Advisory Software Engineer, Lockheed Martin Systems Integration

Bob Rosen
CIO, National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

Dr. Kathie Sigler
Provost for Operations Miami-Dade College

Michael Skaff
Manager of IT/Network Operations Center, AdSpace Networks Inc.

Kevin Wilson
Product Line Manager, Desktop Hardware, Duke Energy Corp.

Is the investment cycle getting back to normal for the rest of you?

Baradet: Were right in the middle of our budget year, so were staying the course for right now. One of the things were struggling with is, What are the appropriate levels of technology for places that have never had it before?

On the mobile front, were working out some of the kinks of our new mobile system. As far as mobile devices, were kind of waiting until we get Exchange Server 2003 rolled out. That will really provide better support for the people who are running Pocket PC and some of the Palm stuff, so they can get better integration with mail. Were switching our test system over to Exchange Server 2003 right now, and within the next week or two, well be running our internal technology peoples mailboxes off it so we can see what it looks like.

Wilson: [The climate is] industry-specific and different between the large corporations and the small corporations. As a large company in the energy sector, were in a down market, if you will. ... Were doing the patches, were doing what we can, but the investment doors are not really opening back up yet. Were in such a transformation age that I think were going to have to exit this stage before people are willing to commit to anything.

Calabrese: Weve put off some of our more aggressive initiatives to work on some major themes. Weve had a significant effort around patch management and version control, and weve accelerated our move toward globalizing all of this so that were working on a single core image.

Were also working toward value management as a way of assessing technology and the pace of technology change.

Is that provoking discussion of alternatives to your current IT providers?

Calabrese: I wouldnt go in that direction. Id make that statement more toward your prior question about the climate. Were looking at appropriate purchases. Were looking at purchases that add value. We will make that large purchase, provided its very justifiable or that it prevents other costs down the road. Can we make a single capital investment that reduces lots and lots of repeated expense-type investments over time? Were looking at that very, very closely.

Benincasa: We never saw in our location a reduction in investment during the last few years. Were a military-related site, and, for obvious reasons, the business has been pretty hefty. Our big challenge was to make sure we met customer needs.

As far as major projects, a lot of people have been talking security, and were no different. We implemented [Microsoft Corp.s Software Update Services] for operating system patches, and we brought on a person specifically to work security. We didnt have a dedicated resource before, but we do now. A number of patches have come out, and were patching the patches. A patch comes out, and they say, Oh, the other patch was no good—patch again. Its just become unmanageable, and we had to have a resource to handle it.

And youve actually increased head count to that end.

Benincasa: Yes, sir. ... We know whats happening, were watching whats happening and were making appropriate decisions to protect the business. We wanted to increase our focus. Weve always had the network-standing tools, the firewalls, weve always had that. But we want to do a better job at intrusion detection, log management, to be able to proactively find if youre getting some hits.

Sigler: The patches [and viruses] are driving us nuts, particularly because, as you would imagine, the students bring them in with them. And, of course, any time you have anything for security, it becomes something of a challenge for students.

Michael, whats the outlook into next year for AdSpace Networks?

Skaff: Were taking a conservative approach to spending. Although a little more is opening up, which is nice, were spending a little more strategically. During the down economy, we had to be extra careful, being a small company. I think things are starting to warm up a little bit.

We are very interested in wireless right now, so we are taking a close look at all the upcoming wireless technologies. Were looking at mesh networks very closely and are also very interested in broadband becoming more pervasive as well. We are still having issues finding broadband connectivity for some of our clients.