The conventional wisdom in the news media right now is to wish a hearty good riddance to the year just ending. After all, 2009 brought us all sorts of depressing stuff, like a recession, downsizing, bankruptcies and of course, bailouts. And yes, for the economy in general and for the people who had to deal with it personally, 2009 was probably not the best year on record.
But the fact is, 2009 did something else. The economic struggles of the year also taught companies that they could do more with less, improve their overall efficiency, and lower costs while still meeting their IT requirements. In other words, IT departments in many cases found out that the recession made them stronger.
A classic example of this strength through adversity is the growth of virtualization and the parallel growth of cloud computing. Until companies were forced by circumstances to find new ways to do their work that used less staff, lowered costs, but still met operational requirements, cloud computing would have been a very slow growth industry. IT managers in many companies are loath to turn over the companies jewels to outsiders, even if it is cheaper and more efficient. But along came the recession, and there was little choice.
Virtualization grew in 2009 for the same reason. IT managers couldn't justify a room full of servers, each running at less than 10 percent utilization. The maintenance required staff that they were losing, the costs for power and cooling were eroding what little profit the company was making, and besides, it was the only way to get nifty new servers. You had to be able to prove you could be a lot more efficient before you could get approval for new hardware.
The need for efficiency had far-reaching effects. The growth of cloud computing and virtualization helped spur the move to a more energy-efficient data center, meaning that companies could effectively lower their carbon footprint while also gaining power and reducing costs. Even better, the claim to be moving to Green IT was good public relations, and it had other financial benefits and incentives.
And it expands from there. When companies figured out that they didn't have to pay for office space for remote employees, and that they could both save money and raise morale by letting employees work from home, many managers found that they could help out their tightening budgets if only they could get past the belief that employees weren't working if they couldn't see them. While the move to remote employees hasn't been as effective as it should be (there are a lot of managers who can't get their heads around the concept), the move still kept commuters off the highways, allowed companies to reduce their office space requirements, and cut back on other expenses.
And let's face it -- employees love the idea that they can do their work, at least part of the time, in their long johns and bunny slippers.
And the effects ripple on. Smartphones are an exploding market segment, but it's certainly not due to a vast number of people who just have to tweet about everything instantly. The technology is also growing to support the number of remote employees who need access to their e-mail while they're out of the office.
I could list a series of cascading effects on IT as a result of the crummy economy, but you can figure those out for yourself. The fact is that difficult times did what they frequently do to organizations, which is force them to adapt. The only question now is whether, as better times arrive, those lessons will stay, or whether companies will return to their wasteful ways.