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Opportunities in a Recession for the IT Leader

Benjamin Lichtenwalner, 0 Comments

I recently spoke to a group of college seniors in IT management about some of the challenges they faced. Like most IT professionals today, they had a depressing view on the economy and their opportunities. There is plenty of press on these challenges we face (for example, see Thomas Wailgum's article, "Why the Recession is Marginalizing CIOs"). On the other hand, there is virtually no press surrounding the opportunities now available to CIOs, VPs, Director and other IT leaders. While everyone focuses on the challenges, few recognize the opportunities before us. Everyone seems focused on "delivering more, with less". However, this focus does not open our eyes to the realization that there may never again, in our careers, be a better time to accomplish key objectives.

What better time to kill low value projects? For example, that project draining resources for months, producing little value, but is allowed to drag on because it is the "pet project" of another CxO. With a constrained budget, something will have to give. Now you can make that case to the rest of the executive committee that either this "pet project" or the plan to narrow your product margins, delivering bottom line results next quarter, will have to be, at least, postponed. Even the CxO in question would find it difficult to oppose shelving the project in lieu of more timely, cost saving initiatives.

What better time for talent management? There are, sadly, many people losing their jobs today. As an IT Servant Leader, one can see few if any positives in this scenario. However, with some companies outsourcing entire divisions, others cutting to the bone and being required to cut even further, there is amazing talent available today that was not there a year ago. Now is the time to bring them onto your team. And what about the great staff that you already have? Employees are very appreciative to have a job today. Now is the time for you to show how much you appreciate them. But, you say, your budget is cut, preventing celebration dinners? No problem - have BYO events. Just set a time and place for the team to meet for drinks or dinner. It doesn't always take money to make people feel appreciated. Sometimes just having a job and a little extra time from their manager to say "thank you", especially outside the office, is all someone needs.

What better time to decommission overhead drains? How many servers do you have laying around, running antiquated software, creating heightened security risks and yet rarely seeing the front of a user's screen? Come on! Now is your time to stop all that. Make the case to your customer they no longer need it. Point out the countless other applications they could use for the same work. Suggest enhancements to more current applications that could be adapted. Do you think there will be a better time than now to make the argument that maintaining these applications is not worth the overhead?

What better time to innovate? Yes, the budget is tight - virtually nonexistent some would say. But innovation does not always require a lot of money. What are the students in the IT program at your local college working on? Would they be open to researching an idea for your department? What about that new team member in your Business Intelligence area - wasn't she working on a new idea after hours? Leverage that passion already residing within your team by simply supporting their ideas. With most other IT leaders focused on cost control, few are considering this opportunity to innovate. Those that do, are more likely to emerge with the best products, services and people to tackle the challenges when the economy recovers.

Every time I am confronted by another person in the IT field - be it a college student, manager, or CIO, who sings the "poor me" song, I think back to opportunities like these. It reminds me of that great RE/MAX commercial, where people are kicking themselves for not buying now. As IT Leaders, our problem is not "deliver more, with less". Instead, our opportunity is to "deliver more value, with less waste". Rarely before and possibly never again in our careers, will the opportunities and support be greater to gain alignment on this goal. Instead of singing "poor me", why not view this as an opportunity to ensure you're not kicking yourself later?

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