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IT forecast: The clouds are gathering

In the past month, we’ve received results from a number of "studies" about how the current economic situation will affect the broad information technology industry. Most seemed quickly cobbled together, sponsored by individual vendors that said they are strong and well positioned to thrive in ’09 and beyond, but their competitors are not. Their recommendations? Buy from them but avoid their competitors. Hmmm. Imagine that. I’m skeptical by nature, but these reports were a weak example of transparently biased marketeering.

So it was nice to see that IDC has issued its annual predictions for the years ahead in the IT industry. Information from a reliable source is always welcome—perhaps especially now that we’re experiencing a deep global recession. IDC interviewed more than 1,000 analysts across the world, and its own top analysts provide input about the year ahead. They expect global IT growth to be 2.6 percent, about half of the 5 percent we saw in 2008. But certain markets can expect higher growth (though still down from 2008), such as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China): Brazil (9 percent), Russia (7.5 percent), India (10 percent) and China (9 percent). Along with the BRIC countries, growth will be down, but still vibrant, in the Middle East, South Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, with growth in the 5 percent to 12 percent range. Africa, too, will see positive growth.

Spending growth for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which IDC believes has been long underserved, will drop from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 3.6 percent in 2009, further supporting historical data that points to SMBs being slower to reduce IT spending in bad times and quicker to ramp back up during recovery.

IT cloud services (software as a service, cloud server capacity, cloud storage) will slow, but not by as much as other sectors. IDC predicted a 31 percent growth rate in software before the current crisis, but has not yet revised its forecast post crisis. It says the cloud’s model of lower operating and capital costs, combined with a much wider adoption by major vendors, will feed the burgeoning adoption rate.

And here’s something we’ve all experienced (or at least seen coming) in light of the impact of Web 2.0 technologies, the line between work and personal lives will blur even further. Because of the weakening economy and subsequent cost-cutting measures, more and more businesses will choose to subsidize their employees’ PCs and mobile/smartphones rather than provide dedicated work devices. More organizations will actually encourage mixing work and home IT, IDC believes.

Also, there will be much greater pressure to resolve the issues surrounding the exceptional volume of digital information and its analysis. In fact, IDC estimates that information workers spend 48 percent of their time searching for and analyzing information at an average cost of $28,000 per worker for their employers. The firm predicts that a new generation of "unified access and analysis tools" will work across all kinds of data and content, and move from early adoption to wide acceptance. Leading the charge will be familiar names: EMC, Google, HP, IBM, Oracle, SAP, SAS and SPSS.

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