Take a bold step

Now wouldn't seem to be the best time to get big ideas about projects based on bleeding-edge technology. After all, the economy is in a tailspin, and everywhere you turn, you can hear the sound of corporate wallets snapping shut.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that in three different surveys, IT professionals said they are under pressure to decrease spending, cut costs and produce quick payoffs from short-term investments. Remember those heady days back when no one tried to cost-justify Internet or Y2k investments? That was then. Now, it's all about ROI.

So pitching lengthy, big-ticket projects built around advanced technology might appear risky, if not foolhardy. But the safe approach isn't always the smart one. In recent weeks, we've seen evidence of bellwether corporations betting big money on the belief that deploying new technologies can offer both a reasonably quick ROI and a significant competitive advantage.

Sure, in some cases, the risks can be great and the ROI could be zero. But if you are willing to gamble, have a vision, can target a definite business problem and have the skills to execute, pioneering with advanced technologies can pay off in a very big, bottom-line way, especially if your competition is nervously shelving its strategic IT projects.

Take United Parcel Service, which has launched a $100 million-plus project to deploy the world's largest wireless LAN using relatively new Bluetooth technology. UPS is predicting a 16-month ROI on the project. Then there's First Data. The economy may be hurting, but First Data is investing another $40 million this year in a massive upgrade of its IT infrastructure in a bid to position itself for an electronic-payment future. And oil companies are traditionally unwilling to cut back on IT in hard times. They often turn to advanced computing technology to help get more oil out of existing wells and find new ones.

Sometimes, throwing caution to the wind is the most judicious business decision that IT leaders can make. It's easy enough to lie low right now, but in the long run, bold but well-conceived action by IT managers will provide real payoffs.

Patricia Keefe is Computerworld US's editorial director. You can contact her at patricia_keefe@ computerworld.com.

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