What a year 2001 was. Job cuts, profit warnings, reduced IT spend, retrenchment and uncertainty. Though still wary after the dotcom debacle, companies did begin to dip their toes in the e-business water again. This time, though, we are seeing less talk and more focused, realistic action.
Companies are getting back to basics. E-business - now probably best described as a means of moving information around using standard protocols - is functioning at a tactical level. It is helping companies to cut costs, obtain better information and get to customers and markets that they could not previously reach.
We are in fixing and improving mode - looking at what we have got and driving out greater value and efficiencies. I recently spoke to the IT director of a major pharmaceutical company who said he wanted to expand the scope of his project, but with a new focus - cost reduction rather than revenue growth. And he is not alone.
But it will not just be cost cutting in 2002. We will also notice the impact of emerging technologies in the year ahead.
Web services offer a modular method of accessing information, when and as you need it, that is set to carve itself a fairly big niche - providing agreement can be reached on language and standards. For many, Web services are seen as the holy grail of technology. They take morsels of data, link them together in infinitely variable patterns to create a Web service, and enable users to access what they need, when they need it, across secure networks.
Web services have huge cost reduction potential. For instance, there is no need to pay for a spell checker to sit on every PC. Pay for what you use, when you use it, via Web services. For end-users, there will be no discernible difference. From an IT perspective though, it is revolutionary stuff - thousands of companies sharing the same Web services on demand, with no need for in-house IT systems or PC software to launch them.
Intranets and corporate portals are big news for companies looking to get more out of existing systems. The portal is the lay person's door into technology. It pipes the information that users need to their desktops and enables them to sift information rapidly - which is great for productivity gains.
KPMG recently undertook a multimillion-pound portal project at a major utility company. It paid for itself in less than nine months by introducing significant cost and time efficiencies into fairly routine processes. Importantly, it enabled the company to focus more of its resources on what makes it competitive - the way it manages its customers.
Companies accumulate masses of information, but accessing what you need can often be a laborious process. Information is currently stored on hard discs, CDs or shared drives. Typically unstructured, like text books with no index, these repositories are getting bigger and more difficult to search all the time.
Storage area networks (Sans), which are designed specifically to store and distribute large volumes of information, are a "must have" for 2002. They are an asset for knowledge management and reduce the cost of ownership. And, with a dedicated network for data transmission, they do not clog up the existing network with large amounts of data.
Web services, intranets and Sans could alleviate three age-old headaches: how to get applications cheaply and remotely; how to deliver information to where it is needed, when it is needed; and how to store information so you can get at it simply and cost-effectively.
In a downturn, it is applications such as these that will enable organisations to extract more value out of their existing IT assets - whether technological or intellectual capital - and to reduce costs by faster execution.