Are IT projects suffering in the current economic crisis?
Andy Sharples, director of IBM’s global finance business
The credit crunch means that discretionary IT projects are under more
pressure. Some are being deferred. But there’s a lot of interest in anything
that is transformational and of strategic importance, and anything that drives
significant efficiency and cost savings through consolidation or transforming
Vendor finance has been under-utilised in recent years as a result of the
tremendous amount of liquidity in the market. That has now changed completely.
The availability and price of credit has changed. Whereas previously questions
may have been ‘what’s the return on investment’ or ‘what are the cost savings’,
today people are asking ‘what are the cash flow implications’ and ‘what is the
drain on the company’s capital.’
We are also seeing a coming together of the IT and finance teams after a
period of separation where finance decisions were made in one place and IT ones
in another. Compared to the last downturn, IT is much more pervasive, e-commerce
is a core operation for all companies and there is tremendous value locked up in
If IT projects are of strategic importance or deliver cost savings, then go
ahead. We know through history those companies that invest in a downturn and
invest in the right way will emerge stronger in the end.
Can businesses get away with reducing IT budgets?
Dr Sharm Manwani, associate professor of information management,
Henley Business School
If organisations are looking at reducing their IT budgets, they can’t stop
thinking about innovation. They need to think about how they are going to change
their processes, and what their people can do smarter. The financial crisis is a
failure of information technology. Not the technology, but certainly the
information, and the extent that the technology supported the information.
My question to FDs is, when they are looking ahead to business cases, to what
extent are they doing risk-based scenarios? From the research that we have done,
not many are. I’m not sure that we’ve taken those lessons on board, certainly
not in the world of Wall Street and the stock exchange.
Outsouring is a legitimate thing to explore to cut costs. But before you go
into any software-as-a-service, or outsourcing or offshoring deal, the first
question you should be asking yourself, and it may be counter intuitive, is how
do I switch it off, how expensive would it be to switch it off and can I switch
it back to something else?
Organisations are starting to recognise that measuring return on investments
is important, but you need to look at the total investment, not just the
technology investment, but the people and process investments too.
Many businesses don’t have the competence to do it. They have relied too much
in the past on external consultants to help them. My advice for FDs would be to
look at that holistic view. Can you cost the different elements and be honest
with yourself about what the real investment is?
What role can FDs take in IT investment decisions?
Paul Druckman, former president of ICAEW and chairman of business
think tank, M Institute
The economic turmoil has tilted the balance and the FD is becoming much more
involved in IT investment than this time last year. Good FDs think strategically
about IT rather than just through efficiencies and that has been one of the
There is a different style of IT project evolving. People are looking for the
cash implications to be less onerous on the business, but that doesn’t mean that
they are shelving projects. The projects that are likely to fail are where the
organisation doesn’t understand the change that is going to happen. People are
starting to understand that projects impinge right across the business and you
can’t just bring in external consultants to do that work in the business.
We have got to be concerned about whether economic models are sustainable
into the future. Therefore, when you look at the risks, they have to be at a
much higher level than before and that business risk also needs to encompass the
people and the longer term view of business in general and the economy as a
The worry I have is that everybody just says ‘well, in 2010, things will be
alright’. But will they? Will we be going back to where we were before with the
same greed culture that we had?
In the 1980s, technology growth enabled us to get out of a recession. Now it
is much bigger technology is not going to enable us to get out of it. It will
be one of the drivers though it’s too big a picture.
Chaired by Rachel Fielding
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