Delivering better service to customers is one of the top IT initiatives for 2008, and many companies are looking to business intelligence, collaboration and workflow, and data and systems integration to help achieve that goal, according to results of a Ziff Davis Enterprise Editorial Research survey and interviews with IT professionals. And despite the hype, green IT and Web 2.0 technologies are not high on this year's agenda.
In a survey conducted for eWEEK sister publication CIO Insight, respondents were asked to name the three most important business priorities for their companies' IT organization in 2008.
The priorities selected most often by 251 qualified respondents were delivering better service to customers (35 percent), improving business processes (35 percent) and contributing to the creation of new business strategies (31 percent).
Cutting costs was No. 4 on the list, chosen by 29 percent of respondents.
Indeed, cost containment is the top priority for the chief IT strategist for a major financial institution. The strategist, who wished to remain anonymous, said in an e-mail to eWeek, "Our No. 1 objective for 2008 is assisting our businesses with cost-containment objectives—mostly achievable through offshoring and process automation to span multiple locations and continents."
Dr. Fred S. Vernacchia, medical director of the San Luis Diagnostic Center, is looking to automation to help cut costs at his organization.
"My IT system will pretty much hold me for a while," said Vernacchia. "The only thing that I intend to†add in the next year is an automated reporting package because I'm in a business that's gotten slammed from a reimbursement standpoint by Medicare. Anything we can do to cut our expenses in the long term [is something] we need to invest in."
It may be disappointing to the many vendors that put green IT high on their marketing, if not actual technology, agendas, but it looks like the respondents to the CIO Insight survey won't be cutting costs by reducing power consumption. Only 2 percent of respondents chose "helping our company reduce energy consumption and pollution" as one of their IT organization's three most important business priorities. And only 4 percent of respondents said reducing the energy consumption of systems was one of their three most important technology priorities of 2008.
Seeing things differently is Robert Rosen, CIO of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and an eWeek Corporate Partner.
Read more here about the value of Business Intelligence.
"As energy costs continue to rise, the pressure will be on the big energy users in a company to conserve," Rosen wrote in an e-mail to eWeek. "IT is one of those big users. And, of course, the requirement will be to save energy but not to cut back on any computer services.†While IT costs in general are always a concern, energy is becoming bigger and bigger and is going to hit many more IT organizations in 2008."
Indeed, Rosen, who is also the past president of SHARE, the IBM user group, singled out energy costs as one problem his fellow IT managers are going to have to tackle in earnest next year. Complying with regulatory requirements was named by 18 percent of respondents as one of the top three business priorities for the IT organization in 2008.
Tim Toews, CIO and senior vice president of IT for Office Depot, said that maintaining PCI (Payment Card Industry) Data Security Standard compliance is a top priority for his organization, but that it's complicated. The example he gave was the company's attempt to make all Office Depot transactions identical from a database perspective. "When dealing with a POS [point of sale] transaction versus a transaction on the Web, we don't always use the same data structure and applications," said Toews. He added that the company is looking at POS options to "address those complexities."
The business priorities named least often by survey respondents were integrating processes with suppliers, customers and partners (9 percent), selling and operating globally (8 percent), supporting corporate merger and acquisition activity (5 percent), improving quality through Six Sigma or other quality programs (4 percent) and having a distributed work force (4 percent).
Respondents in the CIO Insight survey also were asked to select the five technologies that will make the most significant contribution to their companies' business strategy in 2008.
More respondents selected business intelligence and data mining (44 percent) than any other technology.
Greg Smith, vice president and CIO of the World Wildlife Fund, said expanding business intelligence capabilities to include data mining was one of his organization's top agenda items for the year.
Smith said the WWF's other IT priorities for 2008 are: "Continuing down the path of virtualized servers using blade technology and incorporating those changes into our disaster recovery plans; deploying a Web-based conservation portfolio project system to meet the growing needs for managing our conservation projects and their goals, activities and results; deploying VOIP [voice over IP] for our domestic U.S. operations and select international field offices; and piloting Web application acceleration technologies for our field-to-HQ applications."
Page 2: The Year Ahead
Data and systems integration was cited by 29 percent of respondents as one of the five technologies that would make the most significant contribution to their companies' business strategy in 2008; business process management and modeling by 27 percent; and virtualization by 27 percent.
Disaster recovery and business continuity also were high on the list of technologies cited as making a significant contribution to business strategy in the CIO Insight survey.
Business continuity is top of mind for Michael Lacrosse, the CIO of Grand Canyon University, a mostly online educational institution. The university has one on-campus data center and rents space at a Phoenix co-locator, Cox Communications, for backup. About 90 percent of the school's storage runs on Pillar Data Systems software and commodity hardware. The IT system runs the school's student and accounting records, the online classes' ERP (enterprise resource planning), the school's VOIP phone system, and some research projects.
"Our goal in 2008 is to set up a third data center and then load-balance all three to each other," said Lacrosse. "We have adequate backup facility but not enough redundancy. We want to have no single point of failure anywhere in the system. So we will continue to invest in the Pillar systems because we have been very impressed with their performance and the fact that they work seamlessly with Fibre Channel, iSCSI and SATA [serial ATA] connectivity."
More than 35 percent of the respondents to the CIO Insight survey named collaboration and workflow as a technology area that would have the most significant impact on their organization in 2008.
In 2007, Google became a corporate contender in this area with its Google Apps Premier Edition. Its low cost makes the platform intriguing for many organizations, but some IT pros see gaps that still need to be bridged.
Read more here about IBM's own Web 2.0.
Randy Rutherford, president and co-founder of CPA Partner, said he would like Google to create a tasking application for Google Apps so he and his team of 25 staffers and the 100 clients they work with won't have to do it manually. This feature would help workers track and monitor workflow processes, he said.
Shaun Faulkingham, IT director for St. Louis-based office supply provider Indoff, said he would like Google to enable synchronization of calendars in its Calendar app. Right now, Calendar only works among people using the Google application. Faulkingham said he would like to see the company enable Google Calendar to work with Microsoft's Outlook and other scheduling applications.
Reponses to the CIO Insight survey suggest that enterprises have not embraced Web 2.0 on a practical basis, since Web 2.0 technologies did not rank high on respondents' list of the five technologies that would make a significant contribution to their companies' business strategy in 2008.
Social networking was named in the top five by 5 percent of respondents, blog/podcast/Webcast production systems were named by 5 percent of respondents, mashups were named by 4 percent of respondents, and virtual world technology was named by only 0.4 percent of respondents.
When asked to name their three most important technology priorities for 2008, 27 percent said instituting a more flexible IT architecture.
One of the ways that many companies are looking to do this is through SAAS (software as a service). Darren Bibby, a senior analyst covering global software sales channels for IDC, sees 2008 as the year when SAAS gains real traction, but also as a year when increased SAAS deployments cause conflict in the channel. This may translate into confusion for customers.
"There's potential for limited fireworks," said Bibby. "In 2008, SAAS will hit the mainstream and be real. Once the whole group of partners and not just pilot groups are selling SAAS, we are likely to see partner-to-vendor and partner-to-partner conflict as well as account control issues. It will be an interesting year with a lot of lessons learned."
The technology priorities named by the most respondents were creating or improving strategic applications (37 percent), expanding IT infrastructure to keep up with growth (32 percent) and improving IT security and continuity (31 percent).
In addition to reducing energy consumption of systems, the technology priorities named least often by respondents were integrating systems with clients, vendors and partners (16 percent) and expanding the use of agile software development methodologies (14 percent).
Clint Boulton, Jessica Davis, Debra Donston, Michael Hickins, Chris Preimesberger and Evan Schuman contributed to this story.
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