2006: What's in store?

If 2005 went down as the year IT powered back to prominence after a few years of depressed investment, what can be expected in 2006? In this special report, Computerworld's Rodney Gedda looks at the industry trends most likely to unfold as end users work to gain more out of recent investments.

Chris Tubridy's response to what significant investments he's planning for 2006 is a crisp "nothing really new".

IT manager for Pittwater Council on Sydney's northern beaches peninsula, Tubridy expressed the hope that there isn't any new technology that needs great expense this year.

"We'll just be doing housework; we've got to get our own house in order," Tubridy told Computerworld. "There are no great plans to introduce anything new."

Tubridy believes Pittwater Council is "ahead of the curve" with its technology as a result of sweeping infrastructure deployments over the past two years, which included mobile applications, security software, and blade servers. Furthermore, 260 new desktops have just been rolled out as part of another refresh project.

In the case of the new security software, Tubridy said: "We're just trying to secure everything we have.

"We will be putting a bit more into security next year to ensure everything works as it's supposed to," he said. "We have our virus walls in [so] we need to get them fine-tuned, and not cause a throttling of the system."

With regard to its infrastructure, Tubridy said the council's new blade servers have "a great system to replicate or replace each other", adding that this is yet to fully exploited. "We want to utilize the gear we have to greater extent," he said, adding that blades have "smarts" the council is not taking advantage of.

It's these recent investments that pushed Pittwater Council beyond the "comfort zone" in previous years.

Tubridy believes there will be a bigger push for notebooks in 2006 as well as mobile computing as "wireless may be becoming a bit more robust [so] you can rely on it".

Sam Higgins, senior research analyst at Forrester, agrees with Tubridy and said, "2006 isn't looking like a real sexy year for IT".

Higgins said Forrester's last survey in November indicated many companies are going to be more judicious with their IT spending this year, particularly with services, because 69 percent of businesses want to reduce their services outlay.

"Even though they are inclined to reduce it, it's not that they won't spend anything," Higgins said, adding that businesses will still look at using some of their budget on outsourcing.

"The tier-2 [services companies] are well positioned in 2006," he said. "When we speak to IT managers about outsourcing, again it is about what the tier-2s are good at."

Higgins believes selective outsourcing will become more attractive in areas of the business where compliance is difficult to solve internally. For example, faced with spending a lot of money on e-mail or business compliance, an organization may just use what services money it has on contracting a specialist tier-2 provider.

"We saw a 7 percent jump in November of companies looking seriously at outsourcing," he said. "I wouldn't bank on big-bang outsourcing contracts in 2006. I expect the ground is well prepared for that but it's unlikely."

In addition to a shift in services spending, Higgins believes consolidation will also gather its share of the IT budget.

"In 2006 a smart CIO will use the infrastructure consolidation to do simple things as a first step," he said. "Consolidation is big, but if I was to name the top three it would be continued focus on security, infrastructure consolidation, and application renewal."

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