COMDEX was canceled again this week. The apparent demise of the mother-of-all-trade shows will probably be interpreted as an indicator of a softened technology marketplace. The escalating consolidation of the vendor pool in our own document and content management marketplace could also be viewed as a sign that things aren't all that rosy, economically speaking.
Yet there are other hints that a different interpretation of events might be in order. Over the weekend, no less than the venerable John Gantz of IDC predicted that "IT spending is expected to increase by more than 8% through April 2006." The report is not without caveat. Several factors--Gantz calls them "macroeconomic conditions"--could have an impact. Oil prices, the trade imbalance, higher interest rates could conspire to dampen Gantz's enthusiasm. But, by and large, it appears to be a positive statement.
KMWorld is also sensing movement in the positive direction. The KMWorld Buyers Guide included in this issue marks the largest spring edition in its history. (KMWorld publishes two Buyers Guides per year). Sponsorship of the KMWorld White Paper series is also at all-time highs--the last two editions were each record-setting in terms of size and number of participants.
Do these conditions point to an upsurge in technology spending? The answer, as is so often the case, is: "It depends." Typically, IT purchases over the last three years or so have been defensive in nature. Justification for investment had to come from strict ROI evaluations, and those usually came in the form of productivity improvements--making do with lower headcounts and accomplishing more with less.
But there is indication that businesses are recognizing the more positive, strategic influence that technology purchases may have on their profitability. "Companies are looking to IT to increase revenue, develop new products and increase productivity," according to IDC. Especially high on the wish list are tools that quickly and accurately capture customer activity and communicate that information to decision-makers throughout the organizations.
The trend toward recognizing the value of information as a business-driving asset is creating a new appreciation for the "IT department" as a strategic partner in business development. No longer merely a "cost center," technology is finding a seat at the table during conversations regarding more traditionally line-of-business projects, such as customer relationship management initiatives, product launches, new-market expansion, etc.
That enlightened view places a premium on content management, knowledge sharing initiatives and collaboration. "The typical factors of production--capital, raw materials--are pretty much equally available to everyone," says Andrew Pery, worldwide marketing manager for Hummingbird (hummingbird.com). "So what they really have to leverage is their human capital. Because of this, there has been a renaissance of knowledge management."
The other widespread trend in IT--namely outsourcing, specifically the offshore variety--may also prove to have a limited impact on content-intensive technology initiatives. While the business processes and procedures associated with the transactional activities of a company can and are being off-put to outside service providers of all sorts, it is unlikely that the "knowledge transactions"--collaborative teaming, expertise identification and knowledge transfer--can be easily accomplished in Bangalore.
So it would appear that content, document and knowledge management is gaining respect among IT shops as those organizations are likewise gaining respect from line-of-business and corporate executives. If a project can be shown to solve a business problem that is currently limiting the ability of an organization to expand into new markets or attract (and keep) new customers, it will have a greater likelihood in 2005-2006 to find funding.