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The March of Time

The March of Time

A look at IT trends 10 years ago confirms the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Since 1995 I've not had a quiet January. Instead, I find myself immersed in the production of IDC's annual Forecast for Management survey: proofreading questionnaires, wrestling with envelope varieties and anxiously wondering whether Australasian CIOs will complete and return the form. All that said, I find the whole process quite exciting. What will emerge from this year's data? Has IT spending declined? Which technologies grew the most last year? Which went backwards?

Probably the most interesting thing is to see the trends and issues over time. I recently stumbled across a copy of the 1993 report prepared by my predecessor Anthony Miller, and thought it might be interesting to do some comparisons.

Certainly some things have not changed. In the 1993 summary Miller wrote: "MIS managers are sending out the message that they have addressed the issues of cost containment and now wish to devote their efforts to the main business at hand; that is, to apply IT/IS for the benefit of the business." I am sure today's CIOs would very much like to do the same. However, if it is any comfort to them the past 10 years have seen a massive growth in IT expenditure and its business prominence. In the 1993 survey organisations only spent on average 1.63 per cent of revenues on IT. Last year, despite a significant slump between the 2001 and 2002 studies, it was 2.77 per cent.

One of the focus areas in 1993 was open systems, but it subsequently disappeared from most CIOs' radar screens. However, last year, as the trials and tribulations of Microsoft's Software Assurance escalated, I noted that more and more InTEP members were interested to know of other organisations embracing an open source operating system. The sentiments seem the same: How do we avoid vendor lock in? As a result, I have included two new questions in this year's survey: What are your intentions with deploying an open source operating system? and What would discourage you from doing so?

While clearly many of the technologies that were tracked back then are different from now, others are experiencing something of a renaissance. Are tablet PCs the same as pen-based computing? Are EDI and e-commerce one and the same? Are client/server and thin-client computing synonymous? The evidence would seem to prove that technologies should never be written off; there is always a good chance they will be reborn in a new light somewhere down the track.

Nor were the issues CIOs facing in 1993 that much different from today. Meeting user expectations and aligning IT with the business were the top two challenges on the CIOs' plate. Reducing costs was the third highest priority. Most IS departments reported they were under-resourced and operating below approved headcount levels.

In the end I took comfort from the 1993 report. While it might seem that all we have been doing for the last 10 years is shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic, read another way the report shows that CIOs have a successful track record in confronting and overcoming many of today's challenges. IS came out of the recession of the early 1990s and surged forward; certainly it can do the same in 2003.

I can't wait for this year's results to see if there is evidence of the tide turning back in our favour.

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