Computer Weekly Editor's Blog

Dec 22 2009   12:53PM GMT

2009 – That was the year that was

Bryan Glick Bryan Glick Profile: Bryan Glick

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Broadband
Facebook
Government IT
IT Strategy
privacy

At this time of year, the web is full of reviews of 2009 and forecasts and predictions for the New Year in IT.

Twelve months ago I did exactly that – suggesting nine priorities for IT managers in 2009. (Nine, for 2009 – geddit? Did you see what I did there?)

So I thought I’d look back at those nine priorities and see how they fared:

The economy

OK, it didn’t take any predictive genius to say that the downturn was going to be the biggest factor affecting IT this year. But even then, nobody was willing to forecast just how tough a year it would be.

According to Forrester Research, global IT spending fell 9.3% in 2009 – the first drop since the depths of the dot com bust in 2002.

No sector of the industry was immune, but PC and server sales were hardest hit. At one time, quarterly business PC revenue in the UK was down 25% year on year, according to Gartner, while European server sales slumped 36%, according to IDC. Those are declines of the scale that led the US government to bail out its car industry.

In the past 12 months, more than 150,000 job losses have been reported at IT vendors worldwide. Even Microsoft laid people off for the first time in its history.

For IT managers, it was a year of cost control and retrenchment. But as we approach the year end, there are signs of cautious optimism. If nothing else, people are so bored of being in a recession, and so desperate to get back to new projects and driving IT forward, that we might just talk ourselves back into a recovery, of sorts, in 2010.

Privacy

There has been a steady drip feed of data loss stories during the year, but more important has been the growing public awareness of this critical issue. When Facebook changes its terms and conditions to open up access to its users personal information, it now makes headline news.

At a government level, the Tories have identified “the surveillance state” as a big enough issue to loudly bash Labour ahead of next year’s General Election. David Cameron has promised to “roll back” the level of intrusion into our everyday privacy – or at least, he has until he has all that information at his fingertips.

But have businesses really grasped the issue? There seems to be little evidence they have. For IT managers, avoiding embarrassing data loss incidents has become a priority, but the wider issue of privacy has yet to truly hit them. It’s only a matter of time.

Collaboration

In January, I wrote: “Businesses have yet to fully exploit the techniques exemplified by social networking sites such as Facebook and tools such as blogs and wikis.”

Now in December, I would probably write exactly the same thing. There has certainly been much greater awareness of the need for better collaboration – within companies, between companies, and with customers – but in a recession, it’s an area that has dropped down the priority list for IT managers.

But for consumers – and for the ultimate customers of many of the organisations that employ those IT managers – online collaboration and social networking has continued to grow and become hugely influential as a cultural force. You may not think the Facebook and Twitter inspired campaign to stop the X Factor single being the Christmas number one has much to do with corporate IT, but as an example of the mobilising power of collaboration, smart IT managers should be looking at how technology can support better collaborative working in 2010.

Next-generation broadband

At the start of 2009. many commentators were calling for clarity and action on rolling out high-speed, fibre-optic broadband. Well, to be fair to the government, they listened, even if their response had a lukewarm reception. Next-generation broadband was a key part of the Digital Britain strategy – the government’s first ever UK-wide technology policy document. Critics, of course, said the plan doesn’t go far enough – pointing to a universal service commitment of just 2Gbps. And the proposed 50p per month “broadband tax” on fixed phone lines – designed to fund high-speed rollout to areas of the country where such a network may not be commercially viable – has been widely derided and will not survive into a prospective Tory government.

But at least the strategy has put technology at the top table as a matter of state importance.

BT is pressing on with its fibre rollout, claiming to be ahead of target, and greater take-up of such services in 2010 will test public appetite of the need for speed.

But 2009 may come to be looked on as the year that next-generation broadband became an economic necessity and a public priority.

Cloud computing

If you’re not bored from being swamped by vendor marketing of cloud computing, you soon will be. Has there been a buzzword that has gone through the cycle from creation to cynicism so quickly? Any online product or service pushed to IT managers now suddenly has a cloud stamp on it. IT managers, however, have yet to see many suppliers actually explaining what it means to them.

There is little doubt that the technologies, trends and concepts encompassed by the term cloud computing point the way to the future of corporate IT. But suppliers are going to have to think much more carefully about how to convince IT leaders that it is a mature strategy just yet.

The poster child for cloud computing in the UK will undoubtedly be the G-cloud, government CIO John Suffolk’s plan to create a public sector cloud for delivery of applications and shared services. The strategy doesn’t lack ambition, and Suffolk intends to undergo trials in the New Year, according to a draft strategy leaked recently. But it is a huge undertaking, and will take time – as do all huge government IT projects – to reach fruition.

Big government IT projects

Speaking of which…

It’s not been a particularly auspicious year for big public sector IT. The NHS IT programme continues to lurch along, despite threats made to stuttering suppliers to sort out their problems. Only this month, chancellor Alistair Darling appeared to signal a change of plan, announcing on the BBC that the project would be scaled back, only for health secretary Andy Burnham to tell Parliament two days later that the programme remains central to the NHS – albeit while looking for cost cuts by renegotiating suppler contracts and allowing greater choice to NHS trusts.

The National Audit Office has been kept busy by high-profile failures such as the Rural Payments Agency and Nomis, the national offender management system. Still, it seems, government can’t get those big, game-changing IT systems right.

If we have a new party in power next year, the likely solution will be to stop doing them in the first place. David Cameron wants to shrink the state, shrink the bureaucracy, and shrink IT projects. Regardless of politics, a future based on smaller, more open, more collaborative, more re-usable IT could be the way forward for Whitehall.

Mobile

One of the few bright spots in hardware sales this year was netbooks, as business users increasingly took to the road and the home. Legislation in April that allowed more parents to claim the right to flexible working will start to take effect once the recession is over and employees no longer feel that working from home is the precursor to working for nobody.

The world has gone mobile application crazy – and now we have to call them “apps” instead, an abbreviation that until very recently would have received quizzical looks anywhere outside an IT department.

For IT, there is little doubt the future of technology will be in our own hands.

The environment

Talk to most IT managers about their green IT strategy, and you soon realise that in most cases it is actually a virtualisation project, or some other form of improving energy efficiency. Green is an everyday part of the mix for IT now, but it is still, in reality, about cost cutting. That’s no bad thing – if being energy aware and cutting costs also mean you are being green, nobody is complaining.

But the next step will be sustainable IT strategies that take a broader and more holistic view of environmental impact. After the debacle of the Copenhagen climate change summit, there will be little pressure on businesses or their IT departments to pursue such plans in the short term, but the introduction of the Carbon Reduction Commitment in 2010 will continue the focus on energy efficiency.

Innovation

There has, as always, been plenty of innovation by IT professionals this year – but in all likelihood, most of it has been focused on innovative ways to cut costs. Still, that experience will always be useful. And the one thing that remains true is that organisations that innovate with IT will be the ones that come out of recession the strongest, and thrive through the recovery.

Happy Christmas to all, and best wishes for a successful 2010 for everyone in UK IT.

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