Heat is on IT directors to boost the business in 2005

Flexibility is key to deliver value and guard against possible downturn

Flexibility in the face of uncertainty and delivering more value to the business are set to be the key tasks for IT directors in 2005.

Despite the recovery in IT spending, IT directors should ensure that their annual plans are flexible enough to accommodate a possible downturn in the economy or changes in business plans, said Ben Booth, chairman of the BCS Elite group and IT director at research group Mori.

"As we prepare our budgets for 2005 we must have some contingency in case we need to economise or there is reduced demand," he told Computer Weekly.

Flexibility must be combined with boosting IT's relevance to the business, said Alex Robinson, IT director at Norwich Union Insurance, the UK's largest insurer. A key challenge for Robinson is to ensure his IT managers have sufficient managerial skills and commercial savvy to contribute to business strategy.

The IT director at a large automotive supplier said this will be done by providing a new management information service across Europe "to enable consistent and more timely decision making, as well as transparency of performance".

Other IT directors questioned by Computer Weekly outlined the diverse technological and managerial challenges facing the profession.

The perennial favourites, doing more for less, security, consolidation and getting to grips with open source all feature on the IT director's agenda in 2005.

Robinson said, "Our biggest IT investment this year will be in a programme to simplify our business processes and systems. We will be discarding a lot of older technology and implementing a range of new, predominantly web-based systems to support our business growth."

Stephen Way, IT manager at chemicals company Johnson Matthey, said his main goals for 2005 were "cost reduction and continuing to provide more for less".

The debate over the merits of open source software will continue. "We have to deal with open source software. We can grasp it, reject it after consideration, or just stick with what we know," said Glyn Evans, IT director at Birmingham City Council.

"I think there is a lot of potential for open source software, but it is clouded by people in favour of open source being evangelical, while on the other side, we are getting scare stories from Microsoft. Neither is good or helpful."

Inevitably IT directors will remain under pressure to bolster their organisation's defences within a tight budget.

David Rippon, IT director at the University of London Computer Centre, said, "My main IT goals for 2005 revolve around security and preventing viruses and denial of service attacks, as well as keeping on top of patching, and testing desktop applications."

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