Greg Enright: Realistic days have returned

It’s been roughly three years since the so-called IT spending bubble burst and the sector entered into what has been called a downturn or depression. After companies had blown their budgets on Year 2000 upgrades and fancy new Web sites that served little purpose, corporate beancounters emerged from their cubicles and alerted the higher-ups to some downright scary numbers.

Since that time, belts have been tightened, projects have gathered dust, and the briefly popular geek in the computer room has gone back to being the vilified nerd in the corporate hierarchy. During that time, we in the computer industry have wondered constantly, “When will the boom return?”

It’s time that we stop viewing the present in the reflection of the past. When we compare today’s climate to that of the unrealistic boom period, we lose sight of just how many positives there are about our industry in its present form. Today, IT departments enjoy a prominent place amongst their peers in any company that requires an IT department. Was this the case a decade ago? Certainly not.

Today, the suggestions and requests of IT departments are measured with more skepticism by CEOs and other corporate leaders than perhaps they were a few years ago. Blank cheques for risky projects aren’t doled out anymore.

But does this mean that IT is any different from the human resources department or sales? Not at all. It’s perfectly normal for fiscally responsible corporations to analyze and often veto the ideas of its individual departments. The wild behaviour that went on in the boom period was not normal. Viewed in this light, it’s clear that IT has simply attained a status and respect level that is on par with other departments. From this fact IT workers can derive a high degree of satisfaction.

When compared to other eras in computing’s brief history, the present circumstances only appear to be “depressed” when compared to the bloated blip of the boom period. Amid the cutbacks and large-scale layoffs, IT still maintains a level of importance that was not seen from the 1950s all the way up through the 1980s. The advances we’ve seen in computing ability within the enterprise have been so advantageous that today’s corporate leaders have no choice but to view tech as a crucial part of their overall business picture.

This is good news when we begin to wonder what will come next. It appears the industry is still hurting from the huge fall it has taken since the boom ended so suddenly. Lingering caution levels around IT spending will lift somewhat and we will most likely see budgets increased (slowly, but surely) in many areas.

While the reckless moves that characterized the late 1990s won’t be seen again, money will continue to be spent on IT and the people who make it happen. We just have to get used to a new definition of “normal” and realize that what we saw a few years ago was anything but.