Future of IT top concern of technology managers

Canada’s IT industry may be experiencing its first twinges of teen angst, according to a recent survey of 2000 Canadian computer professionals that found “the future of IT” as their most pressing concern.

The survey, conducted by Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc. represents one of the first examinations of a purely Canadian IT constituency. According to Gartner, the data suggests as the industry matures, managers have become particularly concerned about the pace of change in information technology, and its role in their organizations.

Bob Hafner, a vice-president with Gartner’s Canadian offices in Toronto, said the industry’s focus on the future of IT reflects the concern executives have as they struggle to find the proper place for IT in their business plans. He added it’s increasingly important for companies to pick out the right opportunities, rather than simply jumping into e-related ventures.

“Managers seem to be asking themselves, ‘Am I doing the right thing for my company – am I moving too fast or too slow,'” Hafner said.

Concerns about e-business infrastructure and architecture issues were ranked number two by Canadian IT executives, followed by matters related to security and privacy and mobile and wireless technology. Customer relationship management rounded out the top five.

Faye West, the Edmonton-based past president of the Canadian Information Processing Society, relates this industry soul-searching as a result of the recent, much-publicized economic setbacks in the technology sector. However, West said she’s surprised Canadian IT managers are as intensely concerned about the future as the Gartner study indicates.

“We’re better positioned to handle the [IT] slowdown in Canada – in our own responsible, Canadian way of doing things we didn’t plunge too far ahead and won’t fall too far behind,” West said.

She also noted several concerns from earlier surveys of a comparable North American body of IT managers are notably absent in the Gartner poll. Hot topics that have now dropped off the list include trends such as the development of online trading exchanges and coping with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.

West said she isn’t surprised ERP issues have taken a backseat to more pressing IT matters. “Those big companies that can afford it have it, and those that can’t have given up,” she said.

West also suggested that the industry’s growing concern about privacy and security may be driven by the Jan. 1 implementation of Bill C-6, the federal government’s new Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. When fully implemented in 2004, Bill C-6 will establish strict new rules governing all commercial transactions that involve personal information.

Hafner agreed that protecting sensitive electronic information is now a topic of broad concern. Given the increasing likelihood of legal action by either violated third parties or government agencies, he said security issues have become more of a CEO matter than a CIO matter.

“In the past it was an embarrassment when there was a security violation,” Hafner said, “but in the future it could mean the end of your business.”

Gartner Group Inc., with Canadian offices in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver, can be reached at www.gartner.ca. The Canadian Information Processing Society can be found at www.cips.ca.