Tech Industry Trends 2010: A Year of Guarded Hope

But while IT budgets are expected to recover some, IT executives and industry watchers aren't expecting a flood of hiring in 2010, even as the economy improves. Among 1,043 IT decision makers queried in a poll by CDW, 80% said they plan to keep their personnel counts at current levels.

Most companies plan to hold headcount steady because they didn't make overly drastic cuts during the downturn, says Lily Mok, a vice president at Gartner.

"The majority of IT organizations this time around were very cautious about how they reduced staff," Mok says. "As companies move to get ready for a recovery, I think they will take the same approach, not adding too much. I don't think companies will ever go back to the big IT organizations they may have had in 2000."

IT management generally is loath to cut staff because those are the people who understand the business. "You cut your consultants and you cut your capital before you cut your staff," Bartels says. "Similarly, when the economy starts to improve, you look for those variable cost options, like contractors and consultants, so you don't end up staffing too much ahead of your needs. You'll add staff once it's clear this recovery is sustained."

That's not to say everyone gets it right. In fact, Mok says IT leaders need to pay closer attention to workforce planning. Gartner research shows only 30% to 40% of companies have a formal workforce plan in place, which includes tools for tracking workforce supply and demand, as well as implementing changes in recruiting, training and development to address skills gaps. In addition, the majority of companies only consider workforce needs for the next 12 to 18 months. That's not enough time, particularly for IT roles that require business knowledge, she says.

"Some of these skills take time to develop, so you need to put that timeframe in place to really build up your bench strength," Mok says. "If you haven't started, now is the time."

Greater Scrutiny, Shorter ROI

As money got tighter in 2009, so did the budgeting process.

At Brandeis University, the largest initiative on Turner's radar -- an 802.11n project – only passed budget muster after vigorous cost analyses. "We're planning a large scale network refresh, with one of the major areas focusing on edge technology," he says. "In some areas we're anticipating eliminating wired access altogether, and in other areas we're looking at maybe a 30% reduction in wired access."

Total cost of ownership is the name of the game now, Turner says. "Everything that comes across the desk today goes through several budget checks before it's even sent to budget. In the past that wasn't as critical as it is today." The 802.11n deployment has taken into account everything from the cost of switches and power requirements to space usage, maintenance costs and other associated expenses.

In addition, Turner and his peers are getting used to a newly established project review and advisory committee made up of senior university leaders. While that can mean more red tape, Turner says it helps more quickly align the puzzle pieces. "It's great because we have more integrated planning than we've ever had before. At a university, that's rare."

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