IT Looks at Recovery. Someday.

14. August 2003
Von Richard Fichera
Nach wie vor hält das konservative Klima an: Unternehmen halten sich bei Investitionen zurück und setzen nur dann auf neue Technik, wenn sie sich unmittelbar auszahlt. Im Gegensatz dazu schreitet die technische Entwicklung voran. Dadurch entsteht eine Kluft, die Firmen zu einer Neubewertung etwa ihrer Infrastruktur zwingen wird, schreibt Richard Fichera, Analyst der Giga Group.

Sad to say, this midyear trends update looks very similar to the last one. The overall climate remains conservative, with a strong element of fiscal conservatism on the part of user management. The sense we have is of a large number of people waiting for a sign that the recovery is on us before taking action. To wildly anthropomorphize, if the market were a character in a Dickens novel, it would be Mr. Micawber, eternally waiting for something to show up. Fiscal conservatism continues to combine with a focus on short-term return on investment to make major new capital expenditures a daunting project for most organizations. As before, there are exceptions. Projects that can be either directly tied to new revenue, such as well-targeted and domain-specific customer relationship management (CRMCRM) or marketing initiatives, or ones that can reduce costs, as can well-conceived infrastructure consolidation projects are still being funded. Alles zu CRM auf

But technology companies themselves still remain optimistic, continuing to invest at historical levels for research and development (R&D), with some, such as Sun Microsystems, actually running at or near historical highs for R&D expenditures. The net result is an interesting scenario, with consumption languishing but new technology coming through the product pipeline at an increasing pace. The resulting disjunction between an increasingly aging installed inventory of technology and the building wave of new technology will almost certainly contribute to some sort of an "assimilation gap" when the money begins to flow for massive new investments, as it certainly will in time. As an example, on the infrastructure side users with a server population of four years or more, a reasonable number for large enterprises today, will find that the replacement servers next year will be so different in performance, packaging and potentially management technology that they will be forced to reconsider many of their fundamental assumptions about server infrastructure in order to efficiently use the new technology. We are already seeing this phenomenon in the consolidation engagements we are exposed to, and we expect it to continue at an even more rapid pace as new spending picks up.

On the subject of spending, we remain conservative. While we have seen, and generated, forecasts for moderate recoveries this year, we are still lacking any major macroeconomic support for such optimism despite some small improvements in revenue fundamentals at some vendors. The financial analysis community continues has almost, but not quite, exhausted the various ways the wonderfully flexible English language can be used to say, "We haven't got a clue, but here's an interesting tidbit that we hope means something good." Doubtless their counterparts in other countries are doing so as well. But despite the optimistic rhetoric, most stocks remain in neutral or "sector perform" territory, belying the breathy prose.

Despite the overall sense of stagnation, there remain some areas in which business continue to invest, subject to the overwhelming pressure to justify the investment with nearly immediate returns. Classes of investments that are passing the funding hurdle include infrastructure optimization/refresh, as long as it shows a strong management and operations return, very focused vertical CRM implementations that can be shown to have revenue generating or cost-cutting potential, and anything that can reduce the direct labor cost or transaction cost in people-intensive, transaction-oriented environments. Requirements and desires for workforce mobility have traditionally been focused on the mobile professional, enabling the remote execution of critical business process steps. Initial steps included equipping professionals with laptops so that documents could be generated at the source, eliminating transcription steps, and complex calculations that could be done from locally stored data could be executed immediately. Developing wireless technology has added two-way communications capability, moving toward true transaction-based applications. Business will continue to weigh the costs vs. the cost-savings and revenue generation potentials. GPRS and G3 wireless services have been slower to develop than expected due to the immense overinvestment in licenses of the late 1990s on the expectation of revenues from location-based and advertising-based push services, which did not materialize.

Unfortunately, mobile applications imply growing, rather than shrinking infrastructure and application complexity, driven by increasing specialization in devices, user roles and applications, along with multiple connectivity modalities. Continued improvements in device hardware and more ubiquitous high-bandwidth connectivity will vastly increase the number of potential applications for mobile devices. Of particular interest is the rapidly increasing functionality of the remote devices, which means that the implementation scenarios will emphatically not be thin-client environments, but will have very complex data caching, replication and synchronization issues. The business challenge, as with all emerging IT technologies, will be to focus on the valuable ones. For mobile technology the picture is clouded by the financial pressures - mobile projects are inherently expensive, involving significant new infrastructure and lots of custom development along with the devices.

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