Resource for recovery

Let’s indulge ourselves in a little optimism. Let’s assume that the latest upbeat surveys about IT spending in 2004 are right on the money.

Our sister publication CIO magazine reported last week that its monthly tracking poll among 200 CIOs showed a substantial uptick in planned technology spending of 6.4 per cent over the next year. Our own front-page story had industry experts projecting tech spending increases of 3 to 5 per cent, as corporate revenues recover, business and consumer confidence returns and IT projects start shifting off back burners.

If even some of the above comes true and spending does loosen up, the next question usually becomes: which market segment will reap the most benefit? Will it be security software? Web services? CRM? Infrastructure or network upgrades?

Actually, I think there’s a more compelling set of questions for IT managers to consider. How will your relationship with your key vendors change during the next economic upswing? Will you evaluate their next round of products and services the same way you always have? Is there something more you could be doing to enrich your side of the equation?

Here’s my best advice: get to know their CIOs, CTOs and other key people within their IT organisations. If you can, join their user advisory councils. Where are they investing and expanding? Trimming back and consolidating? And how are they using their own products and services?

The importance of this deeper familiarity with your vendors’ internal IT operations struck me last week when I was visiting Qualcomm, the wireless communications provider. I spent an hour there with CIO Norm Fjeldheim, talking about how he runs his technology operation, manages an IT staff of about 550 and juggles his resources in a tight budget space.

Like the top technologist at any company these days, Fjeldheim worries about the pernicious impact of spam, the wave of virus attacks and a long lineup of integration and infrastructure projects. His 2004 projects list runs the gamut: a storage-area network expansion, some high-end Unix migrations, growing use of Web services, Windows 2003 upgrades and new Linux installations.

“I blinked and I had 500 Linux machines in here,” Fjeldheim says. He gives the Linux-on-Intel boxes high marks for performance and cost-effectiveness, but he notes that a dearth of applications and engineering tools is holding back larger deployment.

Fjeldheim encourages Qualcomm’s individual business units to take ownership of their IT choices. “IT is a standard services offering here,” he notes. “If the business units want to do something different, I say, ‘Go for it’. Can they justify it to management? Most of the time, they use us internally.”

Over the past four to five years, Fjeldheim has moved much of the cost of IT out into the departments. “About 40 per cent of my costs are not under my control, though I manage [the technology] for the business units,” he adds. “The result is much better decision-making on their part and an improved relationship with IT. You have to do two things: change behaviours and pass along the savings.”

Fjeldheim’s world isn’t unlike yours. And other vendor CIOs are probably facing project lists that are a lot like yours, too. Add in their in-depth familiarity with their own companies’ products, and you have compelling reason to develop a new relationship with your strategic vendors’ IT bosses.

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