IT spending outlook tight

Sitting tight and stretching the corporate IT budget for at least the next 12 months is a key priority for Australian IT executives.

Continuing economic anxiety has compelled them to become experts on existing systems in order to continue constraining IT operating costs.

Such is the case for Sue Bartlett, Australian CIO of multinational consumer goods manufacturer Uniliver.

Bartlett's main goal over the next six months is to contain operating costs. Moreover, she see no letup to the dearth of IT funding in the enterprise in the short term.

"We're not looking at increasing our IT spend at all, but over the next 14 months or so we'll continue to focus on what we've got," she said.

Prudent technology management for Unilever's 1400-employee Australia and New Zealand operation firstly means cutting value-add services like consultants, said Bartlett.

Secondly, in more difficult times she said she would need to exploit the organisation's existing information systems until IT could satisfy management that its systems had been utilised to their maximum.

"We'll be [using] our IT to get closer to anybody, whether that be our customers, suppliers or employees. So that also means focusing on improving things like connectivity," she said.

"We have a very complex business systems map, so we're making sure we have a more simplified [enterprise] system -- doing things like linking all our systems into our ERP and data warehousing system so that we're one business unified under it."

Nonetheless, Bartlett believes there is real benefit in trying to make do with current IT assets in that it compels companies to become experts about their own IT by using it for maximum benefit.

"By taking this tack, we're finding we've got a good knowledge of our own systems -- we're not going to go looking for the next trendy app for the time being," she said.

For Sydney-based automotive services group Inchcape Motors, the ability to get closer to the customer also dominates short-term IT spending strategy.

Amir Parsinejad, a network systems administrator at Inchcape, said the company's main rollouts over the next three to six months will be a migration from a Windows NT 4.0 domain environment to a Windows 2000 Active Directory environment.

Inchcape will also undertake an IP telephony solution rollout, he said. However, he declined to disclose the value of those projects.

In a difficult climate, the IT unit of the University of Sydney is focusing on fostering growth in the organisation and boosting productivity of frontline IT staff. Its aim is to reduce administrative "hassles" and the number of helpdesk support calls, according to George Vukis, a computer support officer with the university's Institute of International Health.

Vukis said the university aims to hit such targets by implementing a standard desktop and operating environment and also by integrating its internal network, e-mail and HR management systems directories. "By having a standard setup we're also streamlining the process of new PC rollouts, and the benefits will be seen as soon as the new systems are implemented," he said.

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