Wall Street's collapse puts US IT spending in (some) peril

The turmoil in the financial markets isn't expected to lead to a tech-spending recession. But budgets may be in for some paring.

The overall economic cost of Wall Street's collapse has yet to be totaled. But it's clear that IT departments will be laboring under some changed conditions in the months ahead.

Despite the turmoil in the financial markets, consulting firms Gartner and Forrester Research are both still forecasting that IT spending in the US will fare better than the economy as a whole and continue to grow on a year-to-year basis.

The tech industry may be "even more resilient than we had originally imagined," Gartner analysts Ken McGee and Mark McDonald wrote in a report sent to the firm's US clients last week. But they also said that they expect IT growth rates to be "very low" until the business climate improves.

That could happen by the second half of next year, the analysts said. They advised IT managers to hedge a little and prepare two budgets for next year: one based on the directions they get from corporate executives, and an alternative "growth budget."

Forrester analyst Andrew Bartels has actually raised his growth forecast for IT purchases this year to 5.4 percent, up from a May prediction of 3.4 percent. But in a report issued September 24, Bartels said that he expects to see a slowdown in tech buying for the remainder of the year and into the first half of 2009. Bartels, who once predicted a 10 percent increase in IT spending next year, now believes the growth level will be just above 6 percent.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT in the US, said many IT managers are likely to delay both new projects and upgrades to products such as Windows Server 2008. "Unless a business can prove that it's absolutely critical to have those products to improve earnings or save a significant amount of money, I would expect companies to put off purchases as far as they possibly can," he said.

The CIO Executive Board, an association for IT execs, said last week that more than half of the 50 CIOs it surveyed in the US on September 25 are putting nonessential projects on hold and that nearly 25 percent have frozen IT hiring. In addition, a majority said that they are re-evaluating their budget plans for next year.

Tight credit could be an even more immediate problem for IT managers who are looking to buy or lease new equipment or are embarking on major projects.

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