My buddy Jack the CIO is as unhappy as I was when I watched the Oakland Raiders make mincemeat of my Miami Dolphins earlier this month. He had had a big 2001 budget ready, complete with a corporate W2K server rollout and a half dozen senior-level hires. Then, his firm's board had a "come-to-Jesus" meeting with the CEO. Now his budget's been rolled back to 2000 levels, and he's been told that he can't even fill his existing vacancies.
Imagine how his technology partners feel. Presuming more cuts like that are coming, what can you do? Where can you go to make sure that income keeps coming in, even if an economic downturn spawns a downpour of bad business news?
The answer: service. If things go badly, people will cut back on purchases and deployments, but they're going to need to make the most of what they've got. That's where you come in. To start with, forget about counting on major new deployments for profits. If they come, consider them gravy for the main course. For the meat and potatoes, focus on building up network services. In particular, emphasize the cost savings of outsourcing to customers. But don't confuse outsourcing with the ASP model. I think performance and security issues will stunt the ASP model, but traditional outsourcing markets should remain strong in a slow economy.
There's even money in break-and-fix services and basic network administration. Profits may be lower than a snake's belly in those markets, but you'll make more money maintaining your customer's infrastructure this year than you will from selling them Pentium 4s and Windows 2000 Advanced Servers. I also think that keeping your old technology skills sharp-like maintaining an NT certification instead of moving up to W2K-will serve you well in 2001.
That isn't to say that you can't make money from new technology. But you'd be better-off pushing technologies that profit from services instead of up-front prices. For example, I think hard times will be great times for anyone pushing Linux. With its low up-front costs and more-powerful enterprise features, the new Linux 2.4 should prove a very attractive proposition for customers that want to upgrade their networks without paying a small fortune in client-access license fees.
I also think that some wireless technology could do well for you this year. Providing services for e-mail hosting for RIM's incredibly popular Blackberry e-mail handset and the hot new i-Mode wireless protocol for Web surfing strikes me as the sensible way to ensure profits.
Just remember, the key won't be the new technology per se. It will be servicing both the old and the most-bang-for-the-buck new that will spell success in 2001, even if the economy does go down the toilet-along with Jack's lost hires.