Global CIO: Glimmers Of Growth In Outlook 2010 Research

Our exclusive research shows IT shops may spend more this year, but not much on hiring people.

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

December 21, 2009

8 Min Read

See you, 2009. Can't say that we'll miss you.

The results of InformationWeek Analytics' Outlook 2010 survey, where we asked 360 business technology pros about their plans for the year ahead, don't make you want to break out the party hats and blowers. But there are some signs that IT spending won't continue to fall and that customer-facing and sales-supporting projects will be on the rise. Compare that to last summer, when we heard a lot about cost-cutting infrastructure projects and renegotiations with vendors but not a lot about IT initiatives that drive growth.

In terms of emerging technology, cloud computing's momentum is real, as markedly more IT pros are considering it than they were a year ago. Data center innovation remains a high priority. Despite some spending optimism, the IT hiring outlook remains weak, and if there's budget cutting ahead, IT will take its share of the lumps.

(The full data set behind this report is available free here, at

Looking at the straight IT budget numbers, there are signs of change. In fact, 46% of companies plan to increase IT spending, compared with just 34% who planned to at the start of last year. Thirty percent say they'll increase spending more than 5%, compared with 21% last year. The share expecting spending to remain flat is about the same, down to 30% from 33% last year. Just under a quarter of companies plan to cut IT spending; last year, it was a third.

When it comes to hiring, though, there's little change from year ago. Just 14% are expanding IT staffs--the same as last year. A few more IT groups have moved out of hiring freeze mode: 36%, down from 43% a year ago. But companies moving out of hiring freeze are as likely to be cutting jobs as filling vacancies; both of those groups have risen. Almost one in five IT organizations (18%) plan to cut IT staff in 2010.

That's bad news, considering the steep IT job losses of the past year. U.S. IT employment is down 9%--a loss of about 350,000 IT jobs--since its peak in the middle of 2008, according to third-quarter Bureau of Labor Statistics household surveys. IT unemployment is at 5.8%, according to InformationWeek's analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' survey results, the second highest figure this decade, topped only by the first quarter of 2003.

The demand for IT remains strong, however. Just over half of respondents to the InformationWeek Analytics survey say demand's rising, up from 44% a year ago. Nineteen percent say it's dropping, with fewer new projects being requested or approved.

Technology Priorities

We asked respondents about their companies' plans for investing in six broad technology areas in the coming year. Customer-facing projects ranked the highest, with 45% planning to increase or significantly increase investment. Last year, customer-facing projects topped the list, but with only 37% planning increases. New apps for sales teams, such as mobilized apps and CRM, were again the second-highest area of increased investment, with 31% planning increases, compared with 25% last year.

In one of the clearest signs of increasing optimism, 31% of companies plan to spend more on apps and systems to support new or expanded product lines; 18% will cut that spending. Last year, just 23% of companies were increasing that spending, while 23% were cutting it. Cost-cutting efforts aren't losing steam--27% will increase spending on IT to cut operating costs. Last year, 23% planned to spend more on IT to cut costs.

We also asked how the economy is affecting companies' approaches to specific technologies. As we've been hearing in our conversations with CIOs, cloud computing has had a great year. It's not widely implemented, but IT teams are increasingly open to it. Forty-six percent take a positive view of cloud computing in the context of today's economy--they're either more likely to use it, will absolutely use it, or will continue to use it. Last year, just 31% took one of those positive views. That's for infrastructure as a service, such as CPUs and storage. For software as a service, it's 56%, up from 50% last year.

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Cloud computing may have promise, but virtualization's the established star, with 73% taking a positive outlook, up slightly from 70% last year. Videoconferencing also continues to get strong interest, with 67% of companies viewing it positively in this economy. That's up only a bit over last year's 64%. A lot of people, however, may just be kicking the tires with videoconferencing--35% of those positive respondents fall in the "more likely to use it" category.

Offshore outsourcing isn't the answer to a bad economy, as far as our respondents are concerned. Half say they wouldn't do it regardless of the economy (55% took that hard line a year ago), and another 18% say they're less likely to in this economy. This dour view of offshoring most likely reflects the smaller size of the companies at which respondents to the 2010 Outlook survey work--48% are companies with less than $100 million in revenue. Our InformationWeek 500 research, published in September, found 57% of companies engaged in offshore outsourcing. InformationWeek 500 companies have revenue of more than $250 million, and may be more inclined and have the budgets to use offshore outsourcing.

Nevertheless, it does seem unlikely that this recession has sparked an offshoring surge--pressure to offshore jobs was already there and has been intense since the last recession. If anything, IT leaders have a more realistic understanding of how offshoring makes sense for real savings during this economic downturn.

In terms of infrastructure, the data center is where the action is. Only 16% of companies plan cuts in data center infrastructure such as virtualization and management software, and 35% plan increased investment. That hasn't changed much from a year ago. One area does show some change: infrastructure upgrades, such as for networking and wireless infrastructure, where 28% plan increased investment, up from 22% a year ago.

About a quarter of respondents expect increased spending on end-user applications, such as productivity software, and hardware, including laptops, desktops, and smartphones, up a hair from 19% a year ago. That end-user stat's a particularly unimpressive rise, given that Windows 7 is getting strong reviews, Office 2010 is due later this year, and the typical employee laptop's is being stretched past its typical lifecycle in this downturn.

There are two final data points worth highlighting, which could be interpreted as IT teams facing reality. Last year, about half of IT pros (49%) said the company's IT budget tracks the economy, and 42% said IT spending was less sensitive to economic changes. This year's results suggest a humbled IT team: 58% say the budget tracks the economy, and only 32% say it's less sensitive.

Similarly, 35% say IT has been asked to cut spending more than other departments, compared with 27% a year ago. IT teams are feeling a bit singled out. IT teams have had to do their part in the downturn, often by cutting their own costs and via IT-enabled projects aimed at cost-saving automation and process improvement within business units. Infrastructure efforts have dominated the IT agenda at many companies. CIOs have focused on running more efficient IT shops, pushing the kind of initiatives that take a backseat to growth-oriented projects when the business is expanding.

Our Outlook 2010 research suggests that this cost consciousness will carry into next year. However, there are signs that initiatives focused on growth, particularly customer-facing ones, will gain more attention. More IT teams are giving serious consideration to cloud computing, which promises both lower costs and faster time to deployment. In 2009, by early in the year, cutting costs was unmistakably the top priority. Next year, as the economy flirts with some level of recovery, it's less certain. IT needs to keep its cost discipline, while being ready to surge into growth mode where opportunities arise.

About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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