I Spy, I Spy with my Little Eye… a Very Interesting 2009

I have been feeling odd, weird the last couple of months.  Was not sure why, until I finally realized – I had not written my predictions for 2009!  Seven years writing predictions, year after year, it becomes second nature.  You have to figure out what will happen next year, write it down, publish it, and then become thoroughly humiliated 12 months later when you review your predictions.  Or, in my case, become satisfied of the wonderful job you did predicting the year 12 months before (yeah, right).

This is going to be a very interesting year.  There are three major forces converging:

  1. Despite what you think or believe, we are deep in the middle of a global recession and no one knows when we will come out of this one.  The effect that this recession will have on all our lives, and our jobs, is not quite clear.  One thing is for sure – there is a financial consideration that will rule most of the decisions you will make in 2009 – regardless of other considerations.
  2. The role of IT in the organization has changed dramatically in the last few years.  While ten and 15 years ago you would have been very hard pressed to find any organization willing to place their IT above any other necessary function – or even call it a necessary function – we are now facing a world run by geeks (pardon the expression, run by technologists).  In addition, the value of IT in the organization has been proven time and time again (even if you choose not to ignore those 5-year, 50-million dollar CRM implementations to nowhere) as critical for the better working of the organization.  Finally, as the amount of data that needs to be processed increased by leaps and bounds with the complexity of the operations of most organizations, IT is not the place where you are likely to see cuts.
  3. Customers are driving decisions. Yes, we have said this many times in the past, almost to make it meaningless… but the social revolution is changing things.  Customers are in control, and they are realizing that.  They know they can make changes happen by blogging, tweetering, and expressing their views.  And they are keen on taking that forward.

So, where does a business turn in 2009 when it has to use less money, rely on IT, and bow to customers?  There are two things that will happen in my opinion, and both make for a great and interesting year.

The Corralling of Social Media. Ah social media, the last frontier.  The place where new technologies, at least these days, seem to go.  This is a conglomerate of many things (blogs, tweeter, social networks) and most organizations have taken the blind approach to it.  Either they ignore it or they try something without a real strategy or purpose.  The idea is that it will somehow profile itself better as time goes by, and more organizations will be able to figure it out.  After all, that is the way it has happened so far – right?  Well, this time is different.  See, in all those previous technologies we saw time being an aid since the organization had to discover the technology, figure out how to use it, and then make decisions about implementation.  This time, it is the users who are driving the progress.  Your customers have already adopted blogs, and communities, and social networks, and tweeter and all those technologies – they are now waiting for you to join them.  See, this about truly working with your users – not just saying it.  You dive into the social ether and take charge – and there are rewards.  All you have to do is have a purpose and a strategy.  This is what is going to happen in 2009 – a very large majority of organizations will figure out their purpose and create a strategy for social media.

The Real Improvement.Really, we are going to change for the better – and that is not just another promise!  I promise (no pun intended, but well achieved).  See, we are getting to the point where we are constantly telling clients how we will change for the better – yet, we never get around to it.  The focus on the organization above the customer (away from customer-centric and customer-driven) means that we will only push so far in improvements, but they tend not to cause a change in either the corporation’s behavior or the customer experience.  And that is not real change, it is lip service.  Smart organizations are beginning to see that delivering on promises to customers, monitoring their needs and providing for them truly pays off by making customers more loyal and resilient to competitors.  The return on not having to regain customers (read my previous blog series), or get new ones to replace exiting ones is invaluable.   Now, in 2009 we will see more and more organizations become smarter about their processes, about their customers’ needs, and about their execution — they will become smarter, flexible, and will truly improve their processes to match their customers’ needs.

And one more thing.  I keep getting asked whether 2009 will bring drastic cuts across IT, how deep they will be, whether they will be equal to the ones following the Internet bubble explosion.  I truly, honestly don’t know.  However, I know what I learned in seven years at Gartner – two make a pattern, three make a trend.  That means that if any data item is repeated three times or more, then it is likely to be the answer.  Why am I bringing this up?  One of the most valuable services Gartner offers their clients is as a repository of information.  By talking to vendors, providers, consultants, and end-users we get the truth about the market.  Alas, if my conversations with customers, colleagues, and my research through the last few months proves true (and I am way past three similar data items by n0w), then projects with true return on investment (that means, impacting the bottom line directly) will continue to be funded for as long as possible – regardless of the department or process they support.

What did we learn in the last downturn that is proving valuable this time? That life continues and you have to continue funding your mission-critical processes.  In other words, make sure the projects you undertake next year have an impact on the bottom line and document (through continuous improvement, measurement and metrics) before, during, and after.  I know that is sounds simple and basic – but are you doing it?

What do you think?  Am I wrong?  Of course, I don’t think so… but would love to hear what you have to say… did I miss something?