CIOs pick security, open source, wireless for 2003

Is 2003 going to be all doom and gloom, attention-sapping business as usual, or are IT departments bracing for a flurry of activity? Computerworld asked a few IT heads about what's going to happen in their departments and the industry in general.

Is 2003 going to be all doom and gloom, attention-sapping business as usual, or are IT departments bracing for a flurry of activity? Computerworld asked a few IT heads to put their fingers in the air about what’s going to happen in their departments and the industry in general.

It’s all go for much of 2003 for Transpower IT delivery manager Stephen Fox, but largely in a physical sense. While the ongoing implementation of its new security regime will be the main focus for the year, the national grid operator is shifting headquarters (a few doors along The Terrace in Wellington).

“We’re moving buildings, so we won’t be doing a lot of projects between March and July, as we’ll be moving all the servers etc.”

The security project, tendered last year, resulted in a consortium including Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and SolNet being appointed to look at Transpower’s digital security and authentication procedures. The project, to be spread over several years, will involve retrofitting all applications to meet the new standards, Fox says.

Another undertaking is upgrading to the latest version of PeopleSoft and, later in the year, looking at infrastructure platforms, including server and desktop operating systems.

Looking at the industry as a whole, Fox predicts issues and trends will include open source, “as more people take it up and rebel against Microsoft”, and XML, as demand for applications based on the markup language grow.

He believes there will be consolidation in the systems integrator sector, with some retrenchment among existing players and new niche offerings.

Security will continue to be an issue, exemplified by Transpower’s own project, he says.

AMP IT manager Dean Rossiter says one of the insurer’s goals for 2003 is to move from Windows NT 4 on the desktop.

“The solution proposed at this stage is to move to a web/Citrix-oriented application delivery model and minimise the reliance on hardware-oriented solutions.”

Server rationalisation is another priority.

“AMP has over 100 servers in New Zealand and our target to reduce that by 60 to 70.”

He and his team will also be looking at data warehousing. “We’ll explore opportunities to consolidate all of our product system data into a warehouse solution.”

Overall, the company’s approach will be fairly conservative this year, he says, as the insurance market is “still quite tenuous”.

Last year AMP New Zealand avoided a round of layoffs that affected the IT department at its Australian counterpart, where 220 jobs were lost.

Auckland Regional Council IT director Tony Darby says his main focus this year will be the council’s new regional rating system, to be provided by Geac and outsourced to EDS.

“Even though it’s outsourced, there’s still a lot of work for us — we need to co-operate with local councils and there’s a huge [public awareness] project involved.”

Under the deal, signed in December, the ARC will need to produce 450,000 extra bills to comply with new laws that require regional councils to give a breakdown of rates spending, rather than just add the charge to customers’ local council rates bills.

“That’s going to be our single focus for the year, really. We’ll be throwing as many resources as possible at it.”

Apart from implementing the new rating regime, it’s going to be business as usual, he says.

“We’ll have the normal incremental-type projects such as SAP upgrades, telephony system upgrades, re-jigging the network, PC upgrades — all the usual stuff that has to be done.”

Looking beyond routine tasks, shared web hosting is an option the council is eyeing, Darby says.

“There’s some talk about us looking for an organisation to partner with for web hosting. We’ll look at who’s doing it well and how we could plug into what they’re doing.”

In terms of overall industry trends for 2003, Darby says it’s a bit hard to pick. “There’s nothing startling sitting there on the horizon.”

Most organisations will be looking at how they can minimise costs and extract more value from what they’ve got, he says.

“Things are pretty tight and are likely to continue being that way for the next 12 to 18 months.”

Wireless will be important, he believes and as for Linux, “it’s not too much of an issue” for the council. “We don’t have it and there’s no compelling reason for us to go down that track at the moment.”

In the US, meanwhile, the worst fiscal crisis to hit state governments since World War II is forcing state IT managers to lay off employees, squeeze vendors for better deals and limit IT projects to those that deliver an immediate return on investment. Nothing less stands a chance.

“It’s ugly. It’s really, really ugly is the best way I can describe it,” says Connecticut CIO Rock Regan, referring to the state’s budget shortfall of more than $US600 million. He has laid off 115 IT workers — 11% of his staff — and it could get worse.

Collectively, the states may be facing a budget gap this year of as much as $US20 billion, and potentially many times that amount for the next fiscal year, according to some estimates. The National Governors Association says there hasn’t been a budget crisis like it in 50 years.

Legislative sessions are starting this month, governors are releasing budgets, and lawmakers are getting ready to cut. Meanwhile, state CIOs are doing what they can to prepare for cutbacks by pushing consolidation and standardisation of systems, examining the use of open source alternatives and exploring new ways to finance projects.

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