Gartner: Economy means CIO introspection in 2009

Analyst firm recommends four themes for succeeding in turbulent times

Technology advisory firm Gartner has come out with four strategic themes for CIOs to help them excel and deliver better personal and team outcomes beyond their core IT agenda.

"The unfolding economic crisis of late 2008 has created a more challenging situation than many businesses and most CIOs have ever experienced," said Mark Raskino, vice president and fellow at Gartner. "They face a daunting and uncertain year ahead. Many CIOs have already been instructed to operate with lower budgets and many more expect such instructions. Chief executives need to cut short-term costs very quickly to cope with volatile market sentiment in many industries and countries, but without damaging recovery growth prospects."

[ InfoWorld queried CIOs and analysts to roll together the five top spending priorities for tight times. For ongoing coverage, see our Special Report: IT and the financial crisis. ]

According to Gartner, this year, most CEOs and businesses will put themselves on a survival path while they reinvest for strategic recovery in 2010 and beyond. "In time of a recession, organisations have more time for introspection that identifies what the deep needs are and also creates demand on what IT can do," said John Mahoney, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "It brings the opportunity for businesses to exploit the technology they currently have to create something new."

Here are Gartner's 10 CIO resolutions for 2009:

Theme 1: Reinforce enduring strengths and assets

1. Start building an alumni network: To maintain legacy skills and complex experienced pools of labour, Gartner recommends CIOs establish alumni networks. This could include a semi-official company IT alumni association with its own Web page, use of Web social networking tools and re-establishing bounty schemes, where staff are paid for recruits they bring in.

2. Stop being the exception that enforces the rules: In tense times, leading by example matters more than usual -- from body language to dress code, and from vocabulary to attention span. CIOs should design and adopt two or three key behaviours to match the required direction they want their reports to follow such as turning away their option to upgrade to the glitziest new smartphone. Such signals will cause people to comment and think about their own values and behaviours.

3. Start scouting for key talent: As large numbers of laid-off people flood the market, some salary-level attrition is inevitable and even good people could find themselves without a position for months. "This will create something of a buyers market for some high-calibre IT talent in 2009. However, company recruitment lockdowns will stop CIOs taking advantage if they don't take specific actions," said Raskino. They should use personal networking paths to find out where talent pools are strong. Rather than shutting the door to staffing agencies and head-hunters, CIOs should insist on interacting only with a senior partner to obtain just a few real talent resumes. They should identify the attributes of their absolute ideal candidates for the few, most important mid to senior IT positions to open and fulfil during 2009 and discuss directly with the CFO and chief human resources manager the possibility of holding just a few senior job slots open in return for a higher reduction target elsewhere.

Theme 2: Prepare for the next change, sooner than you think

4. Start preparing for the unexpected: "It may seem like a paradox but it is possible to prepare better for the unexpected," said Mr Mahoney. "It's important to challenge and develop the thinking styles and frame of reference of your leadership team as well as yourself. We advise CIOs to find people to join the discussion who don't fit the existing mould and perhaps even deliberately choose people who will irritate the majority."

5. Start using social systems yourself, visibly: Gartner said that CIOs need to start visibly using social networks themselves to kick-start their participation from other staff -- lurking in quiet observation is not enough. Gartner advised CIOs to also encourage the leadership team into using social media more openly to communicate internally and externally to rebuild brand confidence, energise the company culture, develop ideas and refine solutions.

6. Start taking cloud seriously: Cloud computing is a major new stage in the evolution of commercial IT that CIOs must take seriously but at this stage is confusing. In 10 years, much of IT will be served this way, so CIOs need to start leading their organisations safely in this inevitable direction, or risk being sidelined by its progress. They should first set aside a reading day in 2009 to immerse themselves in the issues, terms and sub-trends, then personally subscribe to and test a variety of cloud applications.

"Add a small experimental cloud-based application development project in 2009 if you have not already done so," said Raskino. "Mark those parts of your portfolio that are already helping to explore cloud -- perhaps software-as-a-service business applications, Web-based office applications, or Web-delivered laptop backup. Sit in on project post-implementation review sessions to learn."

Theme 3: Survive in 2009 without collateral damage

7. Stop ignoring people and opting for soft targets: CIOs will be under pressure to be seen taking swift action. There will be temptation to cut quickly in areas where staff is working on longer-term goals that suddenly seem of lower relevance. However, CIOs should not lay off the people they will need long-term and who will be hard to replace just because their work is not an immediate deliverable (e.g. enterprise architects, emerging technologies staff). Instead, they should require their temporary tactical redeployment and displaced market-standard heads elsewhere. Similarly, they shouldn't cut projects in areas which are in the hype cycle "trough of disillusionment" just because they are unfashionable. CIOs should defend them if they will still yield significant value in a year or two.

"Keeping up appearances" with the senior management team could reduce CIOs' visibility to their own staff, precisely when they most need to see them and understand what is happening. Gartner advised CIOs to double the number of in-person staff group meetings in their 2009 calendars.

8. Start offering your vendors a free lunch: CIOs will require vendors to deliver flexibility and cost savings and will need to reset the style of the relationship. At the same time, suppliers will be keen on staying in close touch, working hard to attract CIOs off-site for face time, so CIOs must resolve to politely decline vendor courtesy trips in 2009. Both sides must give ground and CIOs must signal a reset to a new style of interchange. They should identify the senior management leader in each of their key vendors, probably not the day-to-day account managers, and invite them to lunch or dinner at a chain-restaurant venue that sets a starkly thrifty tone to discuss the value driven cost optimisation that both are required to deliver in 2009.

9. Stop fearing the future; start driving it: Internally, CIOs should also reflect conspicuous frugality but not be defined by it. They should resolve to occasionally and visibly splash out a little -- where it really matters to staff morale, such as training courses or software development tools. Work on real money saving like flying economy instead of business class -- but avoid empty-gesture cost cutting such as taking cookies off the plate at management meetings.

Theme 4 and Resolution #10: Newer technologies to get experience of in 2009:

With so much work to do, Gartner reminded CIOs that they need to protect the time to stay in touch and get hands-on with some key technologies in 2009:

-- e-book readers

-- Google Chrome

-- Building mini cloud applications

-- YouTube as a default search engine for a day

-- HD teleconferencing

To conclude, Raskino said: "It seems inevitable tough times will hit most sectors at some point in 2009, so CIOs shouldn't wait for instructions to act. There's plenty they can do to protect assets and thrive on the change opportunities -- but they must start planning their way out right now."

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