E-business pulse: Got your crystal ball?

The quetions on everyone's mind these days seem to be, "What's going to happen to the economy, and what will be the impact on IT and e-business?" Nobody knows.

For IT professionals, these are uncertain times. On the one hand, there is a significant and renewed focus on disaster recovery and business continuance. On the other hand, there are tight controls on discretionary spending and great reluctance to start long-term projects.

Most of us are not comfortable with the notion of accepting that we don't really know what our business future holds. We like to gather the facts and figure things out. Sure, we may guess wrong some of the time, but we feel better knowing we've done our due diligence.

To that point, let's consider three possible scenarios of the future, and what they would mean for IT. More important than "getting it right" in terms of which of these scenarios materializes is knowing the tell-tale signs of each case, and being able to adapt to the changing conditions.

Everything's coming up roses. The most optimistic scenario would be characterized by the speedy destruction of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, recovery of the global financial markets by Q2 of next year, and a significant rebound in the IT industry by Q3. If this happens, companies will gradually begin to rebuild their work forces and refocus again on growth strategies, such as e-business. Under this scenario, companies aggressively pursue applications such as CRM and b-to-b by Q2 of 2002.

The good, the bad, and the ugly. Under this scenario, which I believe is the most probable, the United States and its allies make slow but steady progress in the war against terrorism, and the global financial rebound is equally sluggish. In this environment, we don't see businesses return to "growth strategies" until Q4 of 2002. Until then, IT capital spending and staffing levels are held tight (pre-2001 levels), and companies retrench around core systems and existing customers. E-business is in a relative holding pattern, although Web-based collaboration systems and e-learning get a boost due to companies desire to halt travel.

Brother, can you spare a dime? The bleakest scenario would be characterized by more large-scale terrorist attacks both in the United States and abroad, massive layoffs, weak corporate earnings, bank failures, and widespread bankruptcies in the IT sectors. This doom-and-gloom picture would mean that companies retreat to a defensive strategy by shedding all noncore businesses as well as big chunks of their work forces. In this environment, security and business continuance would represent a major thrust for IT, and emerging technology research around smart cards and user authentication would be on the front burner.

Nobody knows what the future holds for the economy, in IT or e-business. But mapping likely scenarios and continuously scanning for indicators is something we need to do. Only then will we be able to respond to the inevitable changes.

Barb Gomolski is a research director at Gartner, a research firm in Stamford, Conn. Send her e-mail at BarbaraGomolski@earthlink.net.

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