A key project for 2012 will be to extend a VoIP rollout. Ridgeland analyzed its VoIP options for several years before starting to deploy the technology at city hall and the police department. Beginning in January, more city departments, including the fire department, will be brought on board.
Further out, Ridgeland is researching its options for a virtual desktop deployment, though the purchase won't happen in 2012, Kirchner says. "We have a lot of legacy applications that communicate in a unique way, so you can't rush to everything."
The city of Ridgeland is replacing IT staff who leave, but it's not adding new positions. Nucleus Research says it's seeing more of that: IT departments putting money into technology rather than more personnel. Among the ROI-driven case studies Nucleus published in 2011, 60 percent said they were able to reduce or avoid adding staff as a benefit of technology investments. (See story, "The CIO's lament: 20-somethings who quit after a year.")
"With uncertainty about what corporate taxes are going to look like in 2012, and what unemployment is going to look like, companies are opting to invest in technology that makes their existing employees more productive," says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at the firm.
Know thy customer and business
Enterprises are deploying technologies that can help them improve customer service, analyze data for better decision making, and get the most out of their workforce.
Companies have continued to spend on CRM, even during the recession, because it's important for businesses to know their customers -- to be able to identify and retain the customers who generate profit for the company, to cut loose the ones who don't, and to track new customers who are willing to spend, Wettemann says. "For every dollar you spend on CRM, you get $5.60 back."
Analytics technology is hot because it enables businesses to make decisions based on data instead of gut, and it doesn't require an enormous IT outlay. "We've seen companies make a relatively small investment, do a pilot analytics project, understand how the technology works, and see what it delivers in terms of returns," Wettemann says.
In upstate New York, analytics are helping cash-strapped school districts to track academic performance trends and identify students who are most likely to benefit from targeted education services.
Nicole Catapano is data analysis coordinator at the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex Board of Cooperative Educational Services (WSWHE BOCES), which serves 31 school districts in a five-county New York region. WSWHE BOCES manages and analyzes volumes of school data from different districts, customizing projects based on each district's needs.
"We're taking the burden of organization and analytics away from the school districts and helping them pinpoint where they should focus their time and attention regarding student achievement," Catapano explains. "For one group we looked to see what variables predicted student readiness for college classes. In another district, we looked at early literacy indicators to see what skills students had or were lacking in order to be demonstrating a level of proficiency by third grade."