Recession is over, time for IT to restart the engines

Some people are loath to come right out and say this, but I will: The recession is over, and when the numbers are all sorted, I'm guessing the experts will say we turned the corner early last fall, if not sooner.

Sure, there are qualifiers. With such a deep recession, the recovery may be slow. Jobs are a lagging indicator, and we may have double-digit unemployment for some time to come. And the housing market is still weak.

But the technology sector is far from weak. In fact, technology looks to be leading the charge. Over the past few weeks, there's been up-and-down news about the economy. But when you home in on tech financials, IT spending forecasts and tech vendors' quarterly sales figures, things are looking upbeat.

A few weeks ago, for example, Gartner raised its 2010 worldwide IT spending growth projection to 4.6% from 3.3%. Although that's fairly modest growth, it represents a big swing from 2009's 4.6% drop in IT spending. Forrester, meanwhile, is projecting 6.6% IT spending growth this year.

Maybe you aren't terribly concerned because the full effects of this recession were never felt in your IT shop. Chances are good that your IT organization didn't stop spending entirely and continued rolling out projects, implementing new technologies, maintaining infrastructure and performing upgrades. But there's a good chance that you did lose some personnel, or at least saw new hiring postponed, and you almost certainly had to cancel or delay some projects. Most IT shops aren't running at anywhere near full speed.

And if you work in one of those shops, you might want to heed this very sound advice, which Computerworld offered in the story "Recovery Ahead" back on Aug. 10:

"Once the business demand for IT services starts growing in an economic recovery, it's far too late for an in-house IT department to ramp up to meet that demand. The time to prepare for a recovery is just before the recession starts to bottom out.... You can't just wait until the recession is declared over."

That advice may have been difficult to act upon last summer, though. The climate at many organizations has been cautious to the point of paralysis -- and that's completely understandable, given the economic environment.

But, IT leaders, this is your final wake-up call. Six months from now, you won't be able to afford to be complacent. Business is going to begin to rev up, and now is the time to lobby for new head count, place orders for new enterprise apps and systems, initiate due diligence on major new projects, spend money on training and line up outsourcing partners.

And if it's still early in your fiscal year, this might also be the time to double-down with your budget on a medium-size project that you've had in your back pocket. It should be something that has an excellent chance of saving a big chunk of change or facilitating incremental revenue growth.

If you're not convinced about the need to act now, remember the principles of supply and demand. IT products and services that haven't seen much demand lately are sure to be less expensive (and delivered more quickly) today than they will be when things are really booming six months from now. And after the economy upshifts, it will be much more difficult to hire talented people with valuable IT expertise than it is right now. The better talent will go to those who act first.

Sure, recoveries tend to be bumpy, and they come to different companies and industries at different times. Temper my advice with your own company-specific insights. Just be prepared. Properly timing this recovery might save you and your company money and help you address crucial business needs faster. You can't afford to wait this out.

Scot Finnie is Computerworld's editor in chief. You can catch him on Twitter, where he tweets as @scotfinnie, or you can e-mail him at sfinnie@computerworld.com.

Read more about management in Computerworld's Management Knowledge Center.

This story, "Recession is over, time for IT to restart the engines" was originally published by Computerworld.

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