Recovery Ahead

Don't just sit there. It's time to position your IT department for the economic upturn, whenever it comes.

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BMC also boosted spending on communications technology, upgrading its video gear and increasing bandwidth to make it easier to use video in instant messaging. "We're investing in how to use these tools, because even if quality of the video is low, it somehow makes a conversation more meaningful," says Settle.

Hire a few good people

Good people are being let go by firms that either aren't thinking clearly or have no choice but to cut muscle, says John Ciacchella, a principal in Deloitte Consulting's San Jose office.

That means there are talented people available who can work with both IT and business units. Companies need to go after such talent, even if they're reducing other staff, Ciacchella says. It may mean an extra cut or two in some areas, he acknowledges, but hiring key people now will automatically put a company in a better position when the upturn comes.

Businesses that are hiring are enjoying the bonanza of top-quality applicants. RightNow Technologies Inc., a midsize Web applications vendor in Bozeman, Mont., has 30 open IT positions. It has invested in a recruiting management tool from Taleo Corp. to help it sift through hundreds of résumés. RightNow CIO Laef Olson says he and his top managers meet for an hour a week to evaluate candidates for senior-level networking jobs.

"Instead of looking for a guy with 'Cisco training,' I'm getting someone experienced with MPLS, voice over IP and quality-of-service in a single candidate. We're raising the bar on talent," Olson says.

Innovate to invigorate the bottom line

As is the case at so many other companies, the downturn has caused sharp declines in growth, and then a cutback in expenses, at Ebags Inc., an online retailer of luggage and bags.

The company had built a staff based on 30% estimated growth rates, so anticipated flat sales meant big staff cuts -- 17 out of 40 employees, including 35% of its IT staff, says Peter Cobb, senior vice president and co-founder of the Greenwood Village, Colo., firm.

Those who remain are focusing on adding features that directly help customers find goods to purchase. So Ebags is doing things like enabling customers to search by color and adding new tags to the site, like "laptop bag," for easier searching. It also used site analysis tools from Gomez Inc. to figure out how to get page loads down from 1.5 seconds to 0.7.

Cobb says these priority shifts should put the company in good stead when consumers begin buying again.

In the end, IT managers say their priority is to not just endure the downturn, but to be prepared for the recovery when it finally arrives. As UMass Boston's Agee says, "We're lining up our strategic priorities for the university, and targeting our cuts as far away from them as possible."

Fitzgerald is a freelance writer based outside of Boston.

This version of the story originally ran in Computerworld's print edition; it previously appeared on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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