How to recession-proof IT

In the current economic environment, IT is well positioned to make a compelling case for strategic spending that can help weather the storm.

The pundits who have long been predicting an economic slowdown are finally having their day in the sun and, as if having won some macabre bet, can be found gloating in the "victory" of an economic down cycle. The news has already affected the IT industry, with CIOs speaking of shrinking budgets, and talk of abandoning or limiting new projects. CFOs with their eyes on the till need only glance at corporate spending to realize most IT shops are behemoths on the spending front, talk of which sends their IT counterpart scurrying in fear. One gets the sense that CIOs are shrinking back into their office, to quietly trim away costs and live by the admonishment to do more with less, the hallmark of IT after the Internet bust of the early 2000's.

While an economic recession certainly slows spending across the board, it does not eliminate it and, somewhat counter intuitively, many companies are looking for investments that can effectively demonstrate their ability to generate returns, cut costs, or some combination of the two. Everyone from C-suite colleagues to vendors are more willing to listen to and evaluate a high-quality proposal rather than rushing to and fro, chasing the Next Big Thing. In this environment, IT is well positioned to make a compelling case for strategic spending that can help weather the current economic storm.

A recession is not just about cost cutting

Traditional wisdom that suggests retrenching during a recession, and waiting under a rock until happy days return is not always the best advice, especially in IT organizations that have already spent years trimming staff and budgets. By and large, many IT organizations have cut their "low lying fruit" on the spending front, and significant costly effort must be spent to implement further cuts creating a case of spending a dollar to save a dime. While it's easy to look at cutting back as a solution to economic woes, the opposite strategy might be just be what your organization needs.

As others cower in fear, openings appear in the competitive landscape that can be exploited by the bold and nimble. While projects are cancelled or shelved, there is an opportunity to present others that can demonstrably increase a company's capabilities or further its objectives. While competitors cringe in fear, bold maneuvers can occur unopposed. Anything from getting more compelling pricing from vendors, to snagging top-notch talent at bargain basement pricing is possible during an economic downturn. IT has consistently bemoaned a talent shortage, and the latest economic troubles may present the perfect opportunity to fill your ranks with talent that has been let go by other organizations.

Recessions are a perfect time to evaluate all the systems and processes that were put in place during better times, and dig up all the "nice to haves" that were shelved by the implementation team. As discussed in Innovation, the CIO's Secret Weapon there are myriad opportunities to exploit existing infrastructure and processes that are both cheap to implement, and have the potential to engender high returns.

Recessions are about value

An economic downturn creates a more narrow focus on value: the demonstrable improvement of a company's condition. The savvy IT leader will look for the value in potential projects rather than just attempting to minimize cost, as groups that can create compelling value for their internal peers or customers are always in high demand. Take the strategy consulting firms for example: their advice is equally, if not more valuable when times are difficult versus market conditions where it is easier to be an economic winner. Applying the same mindset to corporate IT can make it a competitive weapon during down times, rather than another cost to be scrutinized.

Working hand in hand with your counterparts in Finance can accelerate this process even further. While the financial savvy of IT has improved dramatically over the past several years, the CFO brings financial acumen and insight to formulating strategic projects that few CIOs possess. This dynamic duo can combine the CIO's broad knowledge of business processes and technical acumen with the CFO's financial capabilities and strategic insights to design projects that would accelerate corporate objectives in high times, and downright obliterate competition in leaner times.

Despite the doomsday scenarios predicting otherwise, IT can weather this economic storm and deployed well, use it to create dramatic competitive advantage.

Patrick Gray is the founder and president of Prevoyance Group, and author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology. Prevoyance Group provides strategic IT consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Patrick can be reached at


Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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