No Rest for the Weary

After January 1 comes and goes, and the year-2000 issue is finally behind us, IT professionals should breathe a collective sigh of relief. But no matter how well-deserved, it will be a short respite. If there is one thing about the coming year that CIOs, CTOs, IS managers, and various experts agree on, it is that 2000 will not be a year to sit back and reflect.

This state of affairs is due to the convergence of two distinct but related trends. The first is that organizations will expect more than ever from information systems. The second is that IT budgets will undergo unprecedented examination.

"Technology is now becoming more critical to core business functions," says Chip Gliedman, an analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "This means now that the Y2K issue is gone, IT budgets will have to undergo the same scrutiny as other business outlays."

However, added scrutiny doesn't mean less action.

"We are moving up to a new dimension in IT," says Richard Finkelstein, partner at JK&B Capital, a venture capital company in Chicago. "The increase in scale [of new IT implementations] will be massive."

Finkelstein cites two reasons for the large-scale change: the ubiquity of Internet applications and the pressure to use the enhanced infrastructure to transfer more information.

Michael Thornburg, IS manager of creativepro.com, in Portland, Oregon, is already feeling the heat. In addition to managing the company's internal IS and Web infrastructure, Thornburg has a new responsibility. "I am also in charge of our application service provider infrastructure," he says.

Creativepro.com makes graphic application tools. The company launched its application service provider offering this summer.

"Our customers can log on to our Web site and use our products," Thornburg says.

This means speed is critical.

"I am trying to find as many efficiencies as possible," Thornburg says. "Our biggest concern in moving into the ASP space is keeping ahead of wild growth."

The adoption of ASP business models is a prime example of the changing role of IT that analysts predict.

"The notion that the IT department is primarily a services organization just won't fly anymore," Gliedman says. "IT has to anticipate where the business is going and lead in that direction."

Dave Bogan, CIO of the Consulting Group at Computer Sciences Corp., in El Segundo, California, agrees.

"You really see this with the dot-coms," says Bogan, "but it is true in a business like ours as well. IT is becoming a much more critical business partner."

As CIO at a large consulting organization, it might seem that Bogan is far removed from the brave new world of electronic commerce, but he says it isn't so.

"Our product is people," Bogan says. "A large part of my job as CIO is making sure that we get the right person with the right tools to the right client at the right time. I am constantly looking at ways to increase the efficiency of this."

One issue for Bogan in the coming year will be increased use of third-party network providers.

"We are looking at tier-one players that have business offerings, companies like UUNet and PSINet," Bogan says.

Finkelstein adds that IT professionals can expect to deal more with issues related to business-to-business e-commerce.

"The whole [business-to-business] game of developing the right infrastructure will continue to play out," Finkelstein says. "There will be key decisions around XML [Extensible Markup Language] or a competing technology relating to b-to-b information transfer."

Richard Freyberg, senior vice president at Charles Schwab & Co., in San Francisco, recently grappled with just this issue. As head of Schwab's Services for Investment Managers division, Freyberg was charged with beefing up Web-based services for Schwab's institutional customers.

"We needed to provide about 5,800 investment managers with a more robust Web site," Freyberg says.

So Freyberg worked with Viant, a Boston-based Internet consulting company, to design and implement a new system that went live in October.

"We looked at XML but decided not to use it," says Andrew Toal, client partner at Viant. "The standards were still in a state of flux. But XML is a likely candidate for future enhancements to allow more dynamic data exchanges."

Finkelstein also thinks 2000 will be a year in which many IT departments deal with the Linux issue.

"This is a key decision: To what extent will companies adopt Linux as a neutral platform to develop applications?" Finkelstein asks.

Thornburg has already given a tentative thumbs-up to the open-source system.

"We have a couple of servers running Red Hat Linux right now," Thornburg says.

"I see Linux playing a bigger part in [our] future."

Matt Meade, IT infrastructure manager at 3M Company's Austin, Texas, facility does not see Linux as a big issue yet.

"We have a few Linux file-and-print servers," Meade says, "but I am primarily concerned with NT. We have about 65 NT servers. I am hoping to move them into a more high-availability mode."

Meade says that before this can happen, Microsoft will have to offer better clustering support for NT servers -- something he hopes to see next year.

"I would like to have a virtual NT server farm," Meade says, "so that I can allocate my applications efficiently. But to do that I need to be able to cluster more than two NT servers."

Meade also sees more in the way of business-to-business e-commerce and expects that trend to continue.

"There is a growing demand for more Web-based XML middleware to support b-to-b transactions," Meade says.

All of these concerns make the point that year 2000 was not an end, but a beginning. IT professionals can expect more change -- not less -- in the coming year.

"2000 is really a nexus point," says Finkelstein. "CIOs and IT managers can expect to see life get more interesting."

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