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Are the birds starting to sing?

Are the birds starting to sing?

One swallow doesn't make a summer.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer. This saying crystallises the British attitude to the weather. Just because it is a sunny day in May, don’t delude yourself that we are in for a glorious summer. The IT industry of late has been having something of a winter of discontent. As such, I was left wondering whether a recent meeting with an IS executive in Wellington might be an indicator that the IT weather is about to improve or else might just be a climatic swallow or aberration on the IT landscape.The reason the discussion in Wellington stood out was because the IS executive said something totally unexpected. He advised me that his organisation had recently employed a brand new CEO. In walking the building and meeting the troops, this person asked the IS department what they were working on. As is the case with most IS organisations today, he was told of all the cost-saving initiatives under way. They were consolidating systems, redesigning processes and cutting down on discretionary expenditure.

Surprisingly, the new CEO was most unimpressed. He advised IT that too much time and energy had been wasted in organisations in the Past few years trying to save money. He bewailed this penny-pinching because he felt no company had ever cost-cut itself to greatness. The organisation in question was undergoing a change of ownership and had the task of carving a wider niche for itself in the financial services marketplace. The CEO wanted ideas and suggestions from his staff on how the organisation could step up to this challenge.

The discussion was music to my ears. So many of our leaders in politics and business these days seem to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing. When I talk to senior IS executives there is currently an overriding focus on operational efficiency. There are few organisations undertaking bold and imaginative IS projects that might generate competitive advantage. Was this organisation in Wellington the harbinger of a new attitude in the executive in its approach to IT?

To be realistic this is very much the exception. If I put my analyst’s hat on I doubt if we shall see seismic changes in attitude to IT much before 2004. I regard that date as significant because it is five years after the end of most of the Y2K project work. By then the equipment acquired in 1999 will have been depreciated or have come to the end of its lease. Business will be open to recognising it needs to be replaced. Moreover, it will be at least four to five years since the big e-commerce and ERP initiatives. I believe that passage of time will mean executives will have a fresh enthusiasm for IT. Will it be possible to combine the need for a hardware refresh with some new business systems? That is what happened with Y2K.

There is one other thing that I expect we shall start to see in 2004 and that is a new breed of senior executives. The current accounting scandals afflicting the corporate world are likely to lead to much more rigorous corporate auditing in the year ahead. This in turn is likely to expose more irregularities. As such, my view is that the current generation of CEOs and CFOs are likely to fall by the wayside as casualties of this greater scrutiny. Hopefully, their successors will appreciate that customer value and employee value is every bit as important to an organisation as shareholder value. To this end they may be receptive to arguments favouring strategic ICT investments. Keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted when I start to see a few more swallows in the IT sky.

Peter Hind is a consultant for IDC and assists the Australian Computer Society in policy developments. He also heads the InTEP CIO gatherings in New Zealand and Australia. You can reach him at phind@idc.com.

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