IT Pros Absorbing Economic Shock

As interviews with IT pros make clear, IT organizations are responding to the economic crisis in very different ways

The one thing can be said about economic upheaval: every IT organization seems to experience it differently.

There are a few near-universal experiences, to be sure -- e.g., tinkering with budgets, cutting non-essential travel, scaling back scheduled training -- but if anecdotal accounts are any indication, there's a surprising degree of variation in how IT is responding to an unprecedented economic situation.

Consider the case of a mainframe technologist with a prominent financial services institution. Last year, she says, her firm acquired one of its biggest rivals (it was one of several high-profile players in last September's financial panic) and -- as it works to integrate people, assets, and processes -- it seems to be spending more on IT. "[T]here is lots of spending going on related to merger activities, and I haven't heard of anything being put on hold or cancelled yet either -- although presumably on the … side [of the financial institution which was acquired] that may have happened," she concedes.

Mainframe technologist John Walker, on the other hand, is in a less enviable position. His organization is already retrenching -- heavily -- in the face of economic tumult. "We have made some budget cuts, definitely suddenly," Walker relates, adding that "most of our ambitious projects have been scaled back in size." Walker himself seemed headed for early retirement -- until one of his co-workers opted out first: "I was on the list of 'surplussed' people in my area until my co-worker opted to retire early. Most departments had a quota imposed of one to two people being surplussed -- [i.e.,] moved from [their] current positions to some menial [or] trivial position formerly occupied by a contract person."

The result is déjà vu all over again -- at least for IT pros who lived through the economic shocks of 2001 and 2002. "We have been given specific goals to drastically reduce costs, many of which are not attainable without sacrificing pay on a temporary or permanent basis," he says. "All training time is gone [and] every stone is being turned over to find cost savings. Profit-sharing for this year will continue, but next year's is already cancelled." As the situation worsens, Walker's employer is considering more serious measures, he concludes: "'N' number of … unpaid days off each month is being touted by management."

Ken Sharpe, a mainframe technologist with a state government, is decidedly more sanguine about his organization's prospects.

For one thing, Sharpe stresses, his employer hasn't had to kill (or drastically scale back) any of its big-ticket IT investments. "We use .NET applications on the Web, and there is no interest in [mainframe] SOA here. We do have an active data warehouse project, [but] they are planning to move it to [a] Linux environment," he comments. The result, Sharpe says, is that the mainframe is poised to figure prominently in his organization's long-term strategy: his employer plans to run its Linux-based active data warehouse on System z.

"We are looking at a possible [System] z10 upgrade in April. We have a z9 now," he continues. Although Sharpe's shop isn't scaling back its mainframe usage, it is making an effort to husband its mainframe resources more effectively: "There is a concerted effort … to move off more expensive software products to less expensive ones to avoid the heavy software processor upgrade penalties."

If nothing else, Sharpe says, there's plenty of work for his mainframe team.

The rub, of course, is that they aren't getting much (if any) help to meet unprecedented demand. "Our staffing levels remain constant. The one advantage of a poor economy for us is that there are now better and more qualified people to chose from when hiring. The pay here is low but the job is secure," he comments.

Anything could change, but at this point Sharpe's employer is committed to its most ambitious technology investments -- namely, .NET development and its active data warehousing push.

"The .NET development continues and we are in the process of implementing a WebFOCUS [reporting] environment" -- the latter effort is part of its active data warehousing push -- "which runs in both Windows and mainframe Linux."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.