From the Editor-in-chief

The business climate that has been putting a clamp on corporate spending continues to improve according to all the surveys I’ve seen, and the vast majority of CIOs and IT vendors I’ve spoken with express a similarly optimistic view of 2004.

With this in mind, I took advantage of CIO Canada’s global affiliations to gain some insights into how CIOs in North America expect to manage expanding, though still limited budgets.

There has been much talk in the past months about infrastructure upgrades. Certainly systems and servers, particularly those acquired in the late ’90s, remain a priority, but most say that upgrades to aging systems and software should only be undertaken where there is a clearly identifiable business benefit to doing so.

When it comes to new projects there is also greater caution. Again, the bottom line benefit dominates, and there is greater reluctance to take a chance on untried technologies than may have been true before the economy applied the brakes. The new technologies that are getting the most attention are those seen to offer the greatest potential for expense reductions. In this category voIP (Voice over IP) phone systems are high on the list, followed closely by Linux migration and wireless networking. In the supply chain, RFID (radio frequency identification) tags are getting into a more serious trial stage since Wal-Mart and other major purchasing organizations declared their support.

As IT iniatives ramp up, so the competition for IT skills will increase. Surveys suggest that many middle managers and skilled professionals have been clinging to the safety blanket of their current jobs while riding out the economic downturn. As the job market expands, expect some of them – as many as 40 per cent, according to some reports – to look for other opportunities. Now is the time to assess your staff and recognize the individuals you can least afford to lose, and develop a retention plan for them. Recognize also that you will lose some people and, if possible, start to hire in preparation for those losses before the market becomes too competitive.

Finally, despite a loosening of the purse strings, the backlog of projects that many organizations face means they cannot address them all, so a portfolio approach to prioritizing projects is recommended. And to stand a chance of exerting significant influence over what projects get done, CIOs must assume an active role in the business decision-making for their companies and help their business peers to understand where technology fits and how IT can contribute to business success.

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