Even more challenging is a still nascent effort to use an IBM analytics tool that prompts claims agents to ask the right question. For example, Dibble says, a client may mention that he's miles from home after an accident. As the agent enters that fact, IBM SPSS Decision Management will prompt the logical question, "Would you like me to arrange a rental car?"
The really difficult part of the application is dealing with unstructured data, says Dibble. But the payoff could be substantial. "Unstructured data is the richest unmined vein," says White, the Deloitte consultant. Indeed, finding ways to make use of unstructured data is a key task as IT departments look for ways to leverage corporate data into cost savings or, better still, revenue-generating uses.
Better budgets will help IT transition to the "new normal"
If the recession that started some three years ago was a hurricane that blew away IT budgets, business is now living with calmer but still unsettled weather. Instead of cuts, increases of 2 or 3 percent are common now. But mundane "run the business" expenses are taking a backseat to initiatives, particularly around cloud computing, that will save money in the not-too-distant future, says Tata's Sing Rajpal.
Sing Rajpal has probably never heard of Steve Davidek, but the Tata executive and the system administrator for the city of Sparks, Nev., are speaking the same language. Sparks, with a population of about 88,000, was hit hard by the recession, and when it came time to trim services, the IT department was in the cross-hairs, losing 6 of its 14 full-time employees.
During the very worst of the budget crunch, Davidek's budget for new projects was zero, and it was all he could do to keep the city's network up and running. Things are looking a little better now, and if the recession doesn't go double-dip, he expects to launch projects that will modernize his infrastructure and keep costs down. "Running leaner is my new normal," he says.
First on Davidek's list is upgrading his 45-server data center: "We're about half virtualized now, and it's been a really positive experience." He plans to virtualize more of it, and then initiate a desktop-virtualization project. One reason: His inventory of PCs is getting old, but rather than replace them, he may use them as clients. Or, if the money is there, he'll buy thin client machines. Either way, he figures on significant savings.
Davidek knows that desktop virtualization has not really taken off. But while his budgets were frozen, he made a point of being active in Connect, an independent user group for Hewlett-Packard customers, and says he's gotten encouragement from other members to take the plunge. He even brought in a vendor to virtualize one PC as a test, and the results were excellent, he says.
Embracing the "bring your own tech" culture
Meanwhile, Davidek and other IT executives are also embroiled in a culture war over the use of personal technology (think smartphones and iPads) and social networking in business, the "bring your own tech" movement. "We want to hire a younger group of people used to using that kind of technology. We can't be the roadblock," he says.