Numbers never lie


Familiar with the term walking contradiction? Well, somewhere along the line I seem to have become one.

At least, that’s what a bunch of conflicting statistics have forced me to conclude. Somewhere, a group of stern-looking men and women in lab coats and a stunningly thorough knowledge of percentiles and x and y axes have, at times, determined that, statistically, I’m a healthy young man with far too many unhealthy habits; that I heartily endorse both Jean Chretien and Paul Martin as the federal Liberal leader; and that I’m a pie-eyed optimist about the Canadian economy who also happens to feel that, any day now, economic disaster is about to take place on Bay Street and destroy my bank accounts.

I’d pray for some clarity, only the statisticians have assured me that I’m not very religious.

I suspect statistics are leaving a lot of you as confused as I am because, recently, there’s been a lot of conflicting information about the state of the economy. First there was the recent Ipsos-Reid poll, done for the The Globe and Mail, that showed only one-third of Canadians believe the economy will improve in the next year, down from 42 per cent in March.

Then came another poll of 100 senior Canadian IT executives, this time done for Intel Corp., that revealed 36 per cent and 41 per cent plan to boost their spending on server platforms and operating systems respectively.

But hold your horses – concerns about a continued IT slump, no doubt bolstered by recent market that showed PC sales continue to slide, also helped send the Dow Jones industrial average skidding recently to its lowest level since 1998, as investors reacted to a week of financial reports that were absent of hoped-for promising signs.

“There is little evidence that demand is going to substantially improve anytime soon,” concluded Morningstar Inc. analyst Joseph Beaulieu.

IDC agrees – sort of. While the market research firm recently concluded that IT spending on hardware is expected to decline in 2002, it also predicts increased spending on software and services, particularly in the fourth quarter, will bring total worldwide IT spending to US$981 billion for the year, an overall increase of 3.7 per cent over 2001.

But if IDC is right, then let’s start putting 2002 behind us right now – because it forecasts that IT spending in 2003 is expected to reach record heights, growing by nine per cent worldwide to top the US$1 trillion mark for the first time.

So, is that all clear?

Now forget the stats for a moment and take a closer look at your organization’s IT situation. I’m willing to wager that, a few more furrowed brows aside, you’re in the same place you were three months ago, or three years ago or 30 years ago. That’s because one thing never changes: your job. And that’s to figure out what hardware and applications you need to get the job done and make your organization run better, and balance that against what you think your employers can afford. And if that means telling the VPs down the hall something they don’t want to hear, so be it. You raise the IT issues, they choose how to act on it.

Just try not to get too spooked by all the numbers being bandied about. Look at it this way – I’m sure a good chunk of you sat on the sidelines during the e-commerce spending spree, and maybe you even had to restrain a few of your overeager business pals from some impulse buys. Now be honest: during that time, did you read some stats that helped put some doubts in the back of your mind about whether you were doing the right thing or not?

The trick now is to not get caught up in the reverse stampede. Maybe your situation is forcing you to sit out the next round of buying. But for the rest, simply giving up on your plans before you even pitch them because a you think it’s a lost cause serves no one, least of all the people who have you on the payroll.

And I can assure you that I’m right 19 times out of 20, plus or minus a few points.