Top trend at Gartner conference may be budget cutting

The cost-cutting phase of this economic downturn is coming

The cost-cutting phase of this economic downturn is coming, and when it does it may arrive like a thunderbolt, with force and immediacy, Gartner analysts warned at a conference in Las Vegas.

IT managers may get little time, a matter of weeks perhaps, to respond to directives from the chief financial officer or the CEO to reduce expenses, said Ellen Kitzis, an analyst at the firm. And the actions that managers have to take "needs to be fast and decisive."

Among those in the audience listening to the budget cutting warnings from Kitzis and other analysts, was Mike Lyon, assistant vice president for computer operations at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. By the end of the session, he had written several pages of notes.

Lyon said the top message is to "start now," with plans for possible cuts. "CEOs are probably going to give us two weeks if we're lucky to come up with a well thought out plan," he said.

The theme of the Gartner conference, its Symposium ITexpo, is "emerging trends," and while there are many sessions looking at the latest trends in outsourcing, software services, careers and other aspects of technology and business, one theme threading through this conference is the economic picture. Gartner set the stage for this last week by announcing that IT growth rates in the US had slowed from 3.1 percent last year, to 2.3 percent this year.

At one session, an analyst listed more than two dozen steps that IT managers can take to prepare for cost-cutting directives. Some actions, such as freezing headcount, are predictable. But Kitzis also argued that it may be possible for companies to cut layers of management as they move to more collaborative models.

Flattening the organization, and learning to live with fewer managers because of hiring freezes and job openings, is something that Clint Hubbard, the CIO of the city of Albuquerque, is already dealing with.

But Hubbard said some steps, such as an increase in the number of direct reports to managers, will hurt. "I will get something less than what I'm use to, but that's the only option," he said, citing the economic pressures on the city.

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