Nothing to Fear?

Most?if not all?of us are facing the coming year with an uneasy blend of anxiety and hope.

The anxiety is understandable. The stock market has been on a roller coaster ride with a lot more downs than ups. Respected companies are being bought out or are going under. Jobs are disappearing: Estimates put 2008 losses at more than 1 million jobs. People are losing their homes in unprecedented numbers. And our country?s deficit is so huge that it?s almost incomprehensible.

Is there any justification for hope in this scenario? Are we simply a nation of optimists who have become complacent after a string of good years? Or are we realists who believe that our problems?like ones we?ve faced in the past?can be overcome? At the risk of being considered a Pollyanna, I choose to believe the latter.

Admittedly, most managers?on both the IT and business sides?will have to accomplish more work with fewer people and smaller budgets. They?ll have to trim back their expectations, their projects and their spending. And, most difficult of all, many will have to lay off employees?and then handle complaints from remaining staff members who feel overworked and underpaid. It certainly sounds grim.

So what?s the upside? For one thing, down markets present opportunities for organizations that have the knowledge?and the determination?to take advantage of them. Forward-thinking companies will get into shape, sharpening their focus on key business and IT initiatives, while scrapping peripheral projects. They will invest their money in technologies and plans that offer the highest ROI?cutting waste and making good use of what?s left.

Instead of bemoaning what?s been lost, the executives and staff at these enterprises will be excited about what could be. They?ll focus their talents, efforts and passion on making the company better, stronger and ready to do battle. And when the economy bounces back?as it eventually will?these enterprises will be at the forefront, ready to grab market share and rev up profits.

The executives and organizations mentioned in our cover story, ?Top IT Trends for 2009?, are gearing up to do just that. They are investing in technologies?including software as a service (Saas), virtualization, green IT, mobility, security and project management?that can save money and improve efficiency now, while putting them in a better position to complete in the future.

Take Tom Kelly, CFO and CIO at Second Wind Exercise, who says his company has moved to a SaaS platform for ERP, budgeting and forecasting, and e-mail. He believes that cloud computing provides better security and uptime.

Anthony Noble, Viacom?s vice president of IT, points out that security and compliance systems don?t just provide insurance against risks?they can also improve the business in a measurable way. And Mike Notarius, CTO at the State University of New York, says the value of project management systems is that they enable organizations ?to analyze the impact of decisions quickly.?

Even technologies that aren?t yet in the mainstream can provide business value. For instance, Ralph Barber, CTO of Holland & Knight, points out that social networking enables organizations to ?leverage enterprise knowledge, customer-based business intelligence and more.? He adds that these tools make it ?possible to put information and resources to work in new ways and build greater value.?

Our columns provide more useful advice for dealing with the challenges 2009 is sure to bring. In Outlook, Jack Santos urges managers to consider energy, economy and employment when architecting their IT future. He says that these are ?the forces that drive trends, affect business decision making and power IT innovation.? And, in his Strominator column, David Strom offers readers a 2009 to-do list for improving efficiency.

There?s no doubt that business and IT managers will face complex challenges in the coming year. Companies that maintain a ?business as usual? strategy seem doomed to failure. But enterprises that take a clear-sighted, innovative approach to managing core business and IT initiatives will be well-prepared for the struggles ahead.