Recession Is Not the Time to Lose Business Leaders' Confidence


Lately, there's a lot of talk about whether IT staffs have the skills necessary to modernize and maintain IT systems, particularly when it comes to service-oriented architecture.


Forbes columnist and Evolved Media founder and CTO Dan Woods got the ball rolling in early November when he questioned whether most IT departments had the needed skills to roll out SOA.


This week, Joe McKendrick raised the question of IT's preparedness again, albeit in a more diplomatic way. McKendrick was piggybacking on David Linthicum's list of five things killing SOA during the recession:

"Let me add that there is the obstacle of IT departments themselves, not because they disagree with the SOA concept, but that they are simply overstretched and underbudgeted to take on an effort as transformative as SOA."

But what really alarmed me was this week's revelation that business leaders are losing confidence in their IT staff to manage and modernize systems, according to a global survey by Micro Focus.


Much of the press on this survey focused on the UK findings, but actually the survey queried CFOs, CIOs, and HR Directors across five countries - France, Germany, Italy, UK and the US. I particularly hated to see this finding:

"Less than one in seven (13 percent) CFOs are very confident that the knowledge and skills exist within their organisations to maintain core IT assets into the future. Despite this, nearly two thirds (60 percent) of CFOs surveyed highlight that in a recession, skills to modernize core IT assets are the most valuable, rather than skills to implement new replacement technologies."

As I read it, the survey suggested business leaders believe IT staff recruitment is headed in the wrong direction. It seems CFOs are more interested in core, business-critical systems than Web 2.0.


That's mixed news for SOA, depending on whether CFOs see it as a means for modernizing and integrating legacy systems or as a new replacement technology.


If this survey is correct, then it's time CIOs took a serious look to ensure they're not just hiring staff with the latest and greatest cool skills. It may be time to look at either your hiring criteria or-gasp-actually spend some dollars training your staff in integration and SOA, at least insofar as it supports modernizing legacy systems.


When I first wrote about this issue in early November, I received a few posts in response, including a note from reader Steven Rdzak, who suggested IT departments need more than new skills-they need an overhaul of their entire approach to building application:

"Most IT shops are not ready for this model, mine included. The current set of traditional IT professionals are all trained to deliver software in a 'build to order' mentality. If they are to move to an 'assemble to order' model then they have to change the engineering model to build standard components that they can mashup together to create solutions; not something that is going to happen overnight. ... IT has got to get past the 'build to last' thinking that current solution development attempts to undertake. Change is happening so rapidly these days, unlike the past generation business models, that the new model is one where applications need to be quickly composed to support a short term business need and then just as quickly when the need is no longer there, the application torn down/discarded."

I'm not sure if IT divisions have the skillsets necessary for the future or even modernizing existing systems, but I do know this: A recession is not the time for people to be doubting your ability to deliver.


Despite tight budgets, it might be wise to leave some room for new skills development and training in your 2009 budget.