Despite all the talk about the economic recovery, the IT purse strings are still pretty tight, at least based on an informal poll of practitioners at the recent Network World IT Roadmap conference in Chicago.
Noting that the currently thriving stock market indicates broad belief in the strength of the economy, I asked the group of 450 if their 2013 budgets reflected as much confidence. With a show of hands, about 10% indicated their budgets are up this year, 70% said they are flat with last year, and 20% are wrestling with providing more with less.
That proved to be an interesting foil for event keynoter Barry Libenson, CIO of $14 billion Land O'Lakes, who says his 2013 budget is up 12% this year. "I tell the CFO that he wants my budget to go up," Libenson says, "because every dollar I spend drives revenue up some multiple of that."
That isn't to say IT is easy, says Libenson, who has a degree in computer science. "When I graduated you could know all of the technology. Today, the pace of change is staggering."
Examples? Half of the company's app development work today is focused on mobile, which has quickly eclipsed the desktop. And two years ago Land O'Lakes had one app in the cloud. Today, 40% of the company's apps are cloud-based. "We're looking at cloud for every app as a way to increase efficiencies and reduce capex," Libenson says.
The greatest challenge with embracing cloud computing is finding the talent needed to glue together all the on-premises and cloud-based resources. It's hard to find the SOA engineers and middleware specialists, he says.
Constant change also makes long-range planning interesting. "We used to be able to do three- to five-year plans that were relatively accurate," he says. "Today, we still have a five-year plan, but we know it will change because of the pace of tech change."
How does IT move forward given this challenging environment? Libenson says the key to success is partnering with business stakeholders, key suppliers (he even speaks at their conferences), peers and trusted advisers/consultants. "We also focus on being nimble and adaptable, and an enabler, not a cost."
Looking out over the next five years, Libenson offered some of his core predictions: Mobile technology beyond 4G will continue to drive app innovation; use of purpose-built, specialized hardware -- what he calls engineered hardware, like Oracle's Exadata Database Machine -- will become more important in the data center; unstructured data will drive an increasing percentage of IT spend; and the unknown is a huge factor that will only get bigger.
Hard to argue with success.