Low-key City IT feels pinch

Despite unseasonably sunny weather, job insecurity, slimmed down IT budgets and wariness over new technology created a nervy...

Despite unseasonably sunny weather, job insecurity, slimmed down IT budgets and wariness over new technology created a nervy atmosphere at last week's City IT Directors Forum held on the Aurora

The conference workshops talked up emerging technologies and issues including mobile e-payments, interactive TV and customer relationship management (CRM). But many of the presentations failed to capture users' imagination - their arguments as unco-ordinated as the after-dinner dancing.

In the bars there was little talk of hot new technologies. Instead, company IT chiefs voiced frustration at the unforeseen complexities of managing long-term outsourcing deals or Microsoft's new licensing arrangements.

There was a lot of talk about CRM technology but relatively little action to report. Few users seemed to have got to grips with single channel CRM, let alone multichannel. Some also admitted that buying a cutting-edge CRM package would be virtually useless until existing sources of customer data were streamlined.

Truly interactive Web-based implementations were thin on the ground, although e-business remained high on delegates' agenda. However, the collapse of the dotcom bubble has focused minds on sorting out the basics before moving on to the smart stuff.

One IT manager said managing IT projects had not become any easier over the past 20 years, despite the advances in technology, because of the unrealistic expectations of middle managers and marketing departments. "Many of them could benefit from a course introducing them to computer programming," he said.

Despite the boom in outsourcing there was still a healthy scepticism over its benefits. One IT manager confided that he felt trapped in a long-term deal. Between cursing the performance and attitude of the supplier he admitted that his company should have paid more attention to the fine print of the contract.

The skills shortage was also discussed. One obvious way to ease this would be to attract more women into IT. But female delegates in senior posts were rare, and proved what a long haul that would be, despite this week's government initiative.


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