It's early on Monday morning here at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo where thousands of IT personnel have gathered to tap in to the expertise of Gartner's analysts in hopes of reality checking the alignment of their IT strategies with overall trends in IT. At 8:00 a.m., Gartner Managing VP and Fellow Daryl Plummer will kick things off when he leads a keynote discussion with fellow analysts Audrey Apfel, Richard Hunter, and Mark Raskino that will address "The New IT Investments Powering Productivity and Growth." A story in The Symposium/ITxpo Times, a "news flyer" that's distributed to all attendees, quotes Plummer as saying:
We will explore strategies to retool, restructure, and reinvigorate IT's contribution to the business....New technologies and business models are colliding with sunk investment in legacy sytems that remain essential to your business operations. You can't change but you have to change. There are no easy answers.
The story goes on to talk about how flexibility -- probably the flexibility to embrace newer technologies -- is key and how companies should be prepared to embrace newer technologies and models, a priority that should be reflected in IT budget allocation. Reading between the lines, it seems like the general thrust is that some of the newer models out there (everything from Google-delivered Office producivity to subscription-based software as as service or insourced software acquistion) are worthy of investigation and perhaps adoption, but that doesn't mean it's easy to go cold turkey on the legacy systems which, in the end still cost money to run. For IT, this could mean a long, drawn out period of transition where new model solutions are running in parallel to old model solutions and budgets are being stretched as a result.
If I had to guess from the tone of the article, the anticipated costs of running old and new guard systems side-by-side is causing some IT people to simply stick with the old guard since that's what's budgeted. But long term, that could be throwing good money after bad if your competitors learn to leverage newer more cost effective models and, five to ten years from now, your legacy systems are burning holes in your pockets.
One thing I hope to hear them (the analysts) say is "open standards." Having no choice but to stay with legacy systems (even as you gear up to take advantage of newer models) is a common problem associated with the selection of proprietary technologies (years ago). Taking a hypothetical example for example, let's say you've been Vendor X's productivity software which creates and saves documents in Vendor X's proprietary formats. If later, Vendor Y comes along and offers the same software for way less money (or even free) and delivers it in a browser (giving you the opportunity to rethink what hardware goes on everybody's desktop), you may have interest in Vendor Y's approach, but it's all those legacy documents in the proprietary formats that either keep you from considering the change or, force you into a long protracted period of running the two systems side by side.
What if one of your core IT values was to only consider solutions that support open standards? In this situation, standards (ones that both vendors X and Y conform to) would have made you more nimble in terms of being able to move from old to new models, allowing you (a) adopt newer models with far less hesitation, (b) make cleaner breaks sooner (once that adoption started), and (c) ultimately save huge amounts of money. Not only because the transition periods are shorter, but also because you can jump on a new more cost effective model much more quickly that you might have been able to do if proprietary systems were in the mix.
Later in the article, Plummer is quoted as as saying that IT budgets are growing again. But that's not the trend I was picking up as I asked showgoers what's going on with their budgets. For example, I heard from one IT director who told me of a double whammy. Not only is his IT shrinking, a larger percentage of it is being devoted to compliance. Other people I roped in just to get my thumb on the pulse of IT managers here at the event seemed to concur; budgets are shrinking, particularly as CFOs become more saavy to potentially cost saving approaches like outsourcing salesforce automation to oufits like Salesforce.com (vs. insourcing such CRM solutions).