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IT buying patterns need to change in 2008

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IT decision-makers who focus only on traditional technologies and services next year will be doing themselves and their businesses a disservice. 

This is according to Grant Hodgkinson, MD of Mint, who adds: "There will be the usual suspects on every IT budget in 2008, such as security, hardware and software licences and so forth. However, 2008 will also be the year where what would traditionally not be considered pure technology will consume a growing portion of the IT budget and the IT department's time."
Virtualisation and unified communications are set to play a more important role in business going forward. The reasoning behind the growth is simple: reducing cost and increasing stability.
"There are substantial cost savings and productivity improvements available through unified communications," Hodgkinson says. "Location becomes irrelevant and costs can actually decline as companies move into the digital world, as can be seen with technology like Skype. Unified communications is therefore high on the IT radar for the coming years."
Virtualisation also makes it easy to do more on fewer servers, saving hardware and licensing costs, while being able to increase scalability and provide for better disaster recovery. Virtualisation also saves on electricity consumption, which relates to another non-technical issue IT departments have to deal with. In its Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2008, Gartner notes the green approach is a path more companies are taking, either as a social responsibility strategy, or as a means to cut their power consumption.
With rolling blackouts the order of the day in South Africa until at least 2010, local companies will have to take notice of how to power their data centres independent of the national grid. Sadly, Hodgkinson believes that while the green issue has become very important to businesses in the US and Europe, the environment is not likely to be as important in South Africa despite the fact that the country is one of the top 10 carbon-emitting nations on the planet per capita.
"This is because South Africa is currently focusing on producing enough power to cope with the demands of its growing economy and because electricity here is cheap," says Hodgkinson. "It is simply a matter of time, however, before South Africa's electricity becomes more expensive. Corporations will then start carefully considering the amount of power their data centres consume."
An increased awareness and understanding of governance and compliance regulations will also emerge as a driver for IT departments in the coming year. In this regard, business process management (BPM) will find itself an integral part of the IT function. As Gartner defines it, BPM is not really a technology, but a way of using technology to empower companies "to simulate, model and design the processes that run their businesses".
"Organisations in South Africa are only now starting to embrace BPM as an effective way to make people more productive," Hodgkinson states. "The continuous economic growth of the country has meant that companies have had to find and absorb resources and processes faster than institutions are producing the skills, BPM assists in getting the most out of people without excessive costs."
Moving away from the means to store, maintain and recover data, companies also need to pay close attention to knowing what data they have and being able to find it quickly. This is where metadata management, or content about content, comes into play.
Hodgkinson says metadata management is critical to help organisations better catalogue and find information. "People who have made the move to Microsoft Vista or Office 2007 will notice that metadata is integral to helping them catalogue their information. In the enterprise this is even more acute, with organisations having to implement proper information publication and metadata association processes so that content can be found and retrieved as required."
Compliance in terms of storing data for a set period and then destroying it can only be handled efficiently when the company knows it has specific information, where it is and can access it quickly. Cataloguing corporate data is therefore a critical function that organisations will have to come to terms with.
The final issue Hodgkinson says South African IT departments need to understand for 2008 and beyond is social software, which includes podcasts, blogs, wikis and anything that fosters the development of social networks. This phenomenon is also included as a strategic technology by Gartner.
While many companies still see these as a waste of employees' time, a change is afoot internationally that will see business embrace these concepts as new ways to empower people to work together. Sadly for South Africa, social software relies on fast and affordable bandwidth availability and will therefore take longer to become an integral part of the South African business landscape than it will in bandwidth-friendly countries.  South Africa is making headway in the bandwidth arena, however.
"These are the primary issues that will consume the lion's share of thinking and planning in South African boardrooms in 2008, not to mention budget," says Hodgkinson. "What is interesting is that these are not traditional technologies, but applications of technology geared towards delivering more by making the most of what you have, while delivering measurable business benefits.
"It is a fast changing world with new competitors emerging from previously unknown regions and IT needs to adapt to business's changing needs by prioritising business interests while budgets decline and skills grow even scarcer."