IT Experts: Our Top Tech Resolutions for 2009
New Year's is a great occasion for taking pause to reassess priorities, needs, and wants. As we enter what looks to be a trying 2009, such a pause is even more critical. IT resources will be limited and business pressures higher. But that doesn't mean you withdraw or go into reactive mode. In tough times, being clear on your priorities is even more important, as everything you do is more critical. So InfoWorld asked its CTO Council members and its cadre of expert contributors for their top New Year's resolutions to give the tech industry a list that we hope will help you make the most of your 2009 priorities.
1. Get out of IT mode. For IT managers, now is a time when the classical management skills and priorities may need to outweigh IT considerations. "Your opinions need to be part of the mix in order for your business to survive and thrive -- so put them out there," advises CTO Council member Gene Rogers, chief technologist for advanced network and space systems at Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems group.
Bob Lewis, InfoWorld Advice Line blogger and author of Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century Information Technology, seconds Rogers' sentiments: "Eliminate any and all IT projects: There are no IT projects. Every project is about improving how the business operates, or what's the point?" What does that mean? Lewis explains it thusly: "If the project is considered complete when the software has been put into production, it's an IT project and needs to be redefined. If it's considered complete when the users have been trained in how to operate the new software, it's an IT project. It's a business improvement project only if it includes redefinition of how the business is supposed to run, if users are trained in how to perform their new responsibilities using the new software, and if the project isn't finished until the business is successfully operating differently and better."
2. Slay sacred cows. The difficulties projected for 2009 present a rare opportunity to attack situations that are off-limits during good times. CTO Council member Igor Shindel, an independent consultant, suggests that this year is the time to replace Microsoft Office, swap out Microsoft Exchange, or replace Oracle Database as part of an effort to reduce long-term costs. These complex technologies are hard to get rid of because organizations must accept reduced feature sets and will perceive a higher risk in letting them go. But the payoff is worth it, he says, so "this is the year to tackle these projects."
IT will also face a monetary objection to such changes, notes Jon Williams, CTO of NBC Universal's iVillage unit. That objection: The company has invested a lot in these systems, so you can't just toss them. In fact, Williams notes, IT will be under pressure to stick with such complex systems, even if they are the wrong long-term option.
3. Get smarter about IT spend and delivery. This is a perennial resolution, but it easily falls by the wayside as both technologists and business users fall in love with new capabilities from the latest and greatest whatever. "We need to bolster our emphasis on quality," notes CTO Council member Glenn Ricart, managing director of the PricewaterhouseCoopers Center for Advanced Technology. "With the budgetary cutbacks, people are being asked to do more with less, and too often the result is lower quality of delivery. That really hurts the IT organization's credibility and can start a downward spiral. It's better to do the same or slightly less but do it very well, then top management will have confidence that they'll get additional top-notch service if they add to your budget," he says.
InfoWorld Tech's Bottom Line blogger Bill Snyder has advice on two ways to accomplish this resolution. First, squeeze every IT dollar. "Make sure that any business unit or employee requesting a purchase can explain how it will contribute to profitability. Demand specifics, not generalizations," he says. Second, "hire slowly, fire even slower. It's tempting to cut costs by cutting personnel, and sometimes that's necessary. But remember that losing experienced personnel can cost a business in the long run. Institutional memory is precious."
One specific way to save money smartly is to be open to open source, advises InfoWorld Open Sources blogger Zach Urlocker. "In many cases, organizations just default to certain closed source applications or infrastructure decisions because they are not familiar with other options," he notes. Yet, open source approaches can reduce total cost by as much as 90 percent over traditional offerings. There's another benefit for staffers: "Even if the decision is made to go with closed source, staff will appreciate getting exposure to new technologies."
And whatever you do, remember that interpersonal relationships are especially key to succeeding in tough times, advises Advice Line blogger Lewis. "No matter what you're trying to accomplish, the interpersonal relationships have to work before anything useful will happen. If it's ITIL, for example, everyone with a hand in your new processes has to trust everyone else with a hand in the process, or they'll second-guess each other's work to death. This will turn even the most efficient process design into sludge. If it's offshore development, to take a second example, it won't work unless the onshore analysts and offshore developers have confidence in each others' abilities."
4. Be ready for the cloud. You're going to need to cut costs this year -- that's no secret. But you can do so in a way that prepares you for the cloud computing platforms now emerging, argues NBC Universal's Williams. "What if all IT departments cut their datacenter capacity by 20 percent in 2009 and expand back into the cloud in 2010?" he poses.
Getting ready for cloud computing will require a change in mind-set at many IT shops: letting business processes go elsewhere. So, as part of preparing to take advantage of the cloud, InfoWorld Real World SOA blogger David Linthicum recommends you promise yourself the following: "I resolve that I will not fight the movement of business processes outside of the my datacenter, as it makes sense."
5. Make a final decision on which OS to go forward with -- Mac OS X, Windows, or Ubuntu Linux -- then do it. Windows Vista was coldly received when it debuted, and for good reason. But with SP2, Vista is as stable as it will ever be, notes InfoWorld Enterprise Windows blogger J. Peter Bruzzese. So, if you're going to stick with Microsoft's OS, "start upgrading the hardware to prepare for Windows 7 eventually but get Vista going now," he advises, so you can learn the under-the-hood changes and techniques that Vista brings to Windows, and that will be the underpinnings of Windows 7.
If you're not going to stick with Windows, then jump ship in 2009 -- after all, it's now clear that Windows 7 won't be a brand-new OS but simply a better Vista, so what are you waiting for? Plus, the next Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, will also be a continuation of the current OS, so there's no reason to delay your journey down that path. Linux's stability also argues for not waiting.
Plus, Bruzzese notes, spending the money on new hardware and apps will be good for the economy: "Spend the money in 2009 when it can really help."
InfoWorld resources: Windows 7 benchmarks, Windows Vista SP2 benchmarks, tips for Macs in business, Mac OS X Snow Leopard preview, Ubuntu switching tips, Enterprise Desktop blog, Windows Sentinel tool, and Enterprise Windows blog.
6. Lead on green. Green techniques -- from energy reduction to reducing the use of toxic materials -- save both the environment and money. So what's good for the planet is good for the business, and that's a string motivator in 2009.
"IT energy costs continue to grow without a corresponding increase in business value. There is a lot of pressure to reduce IT costs in 2009, and it's an easy choice between paying less to a utility and laying off experienced employees," says CTO Council member Marvin Richardson, managing director of Trexin Consulting.
Rein in energy waste. "There are plenty of steps companies can take to reduce power costs," notes Ted Samson, InfoWorld's Sustainable IT blogger. Utilities are sweetening the deal by giving rebates to aid in implementation of energy-saving technologies. "This is a real opportunity for the CTO to provide visible, popular leadership that will be appreciated by his or her company, employees, and customers. Oh, and it's the right thing to do for both ecological and economic reasons," Richardson adds.
Among the steps you can take are virtualizing your datacenter and pushing suppliers for nontoxic manufacturing methods. "Reduce travel by 20 percent and increase the videoconferencing budget by 20 percent," suggests PricewaterhouseCoopers' Ricart. Recycle your old equipment properly, such as through sales or donations to employees and charities and hiring recyclers that won't ship the materials overseas, where they end up being disassembled by hand, poisoning the people there.
At the University of Hawaii, InfoWorld contributing editor Brian Chee shows how it's done: "My first New Year's resolution is to dramatically reduce the energy footprint of my lab by retiring my older, less-efficient servers in favor of blades. Future blades will be cheaper than stand-alone servers, and the power supplies are much more efficient. Overall, I think I can cut my server rack power usage in half, especially since I'm virtualizing everything now."
7. Get serious about architecture. "Focus on enterprise architecture and governance," advises CTO Council member Jeff Gleason, enterprise architect at Aegon USA Investment Management. "During good times, we're usually too busy to worry about things like current state architecture, future-state road maps, and governance of project priorities and IT spend. Yet it's always tough times like now when we wish our enterprise architecture practice were more mature, that we didn't have so much redundancy, that system changes were easier and faster, and that project priorities are more clear. The architecture group is always talking about this stuff, but it's never until we have to cut costs that anyone pays attention."
8. Get serious about business continuity. "Resolve to have a business continuity plan in place and to have at least one full disaster prep drill during 2009," advises InfoWorld Test Center editor Curtis Franklin. "There's no reason not to have a fully developed plan, and no reason to think that your plan will work if you haven't tried it."
9. Get serious about security. "Resolve to have a full information security audit during 2009," Franklin also advises. The audit should include every application, job function, and individual that touches sensitive data, with special attention given to those touching sensitive customer data.
While IT focuses on its security, the industry as a whole needs to fix the security problems of the Internet, adds Security Adviser blogger Roger A. Grimes. "The Internet is quickly growing into the way the world works, and the criminals control much too much of it. It's time to start drawing a line in the sand and say, 'Enough is enough!' And take back our Internet."