IDC: Economic recovery is what you make it

Economic recovery in the IT sector is in the eye of the beholder and, depending on what you're looking for, it may already be here - or still a long way off, according to speakers at the 13th annual IDC European IT Forum in Paris.

Conference chairman, Jeremy Paxman, a British TV journalist famous for his sarcastic put-downs of politicians, set the tone for the day.

He said the events were once more like festivals but now they were "more like religious gatherings waiting for the second coming".

Booms and busts are a recurring feature of the IT industry, and vendors and buyers had weathered the cycle many times before, founder and chairman of IDG, the parent company of IDC and of IDG News Service, Patrick J. McGovern, said. He predicted another boom to come between 2013 and 2015, which he called the bio-IT cycle. This would be driven by the euphoria of developing technology to prolong life.

He offered one snippet of investment advice for this boom: "Sell by the end of 2014."

Paxman introduced IDC's chief research officer, John Gantz, as a "former submariner" and asked how the market looked through his periscope.

"At least this year, the periscope is finally out of the water," Gantz said.

Worldwide IT spending growth slumped from 10.8 per cent in 1999 to -4.1 percent last year.

"This year, if we are lucky, it will climb up to 1 per cent," he said.

Even if Gantz is right, that would not be enough to convince everyone the recovery is here, according to the next speaker, Lester Thurow, professor of management and economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management.

Thurow offered two definitions of recovery, that of an economist, and that of a businessman.

By recovery, "An economist means a sustained rate of growth: 0.1 percent is OK as long as it is positive. I don't think that a businessman sees any difference between +0.1 and -0.1. What a businessman means by a recovery is that you can make money through growth rather than downsizing," he said.

For economists, the current economic environment is hardly a recession, while for businesspeople it's the worst they've seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"The US has lost 3 million jobs since (US President George W.) Bush took office, it's losing 100,000 jobs a month," he said.

If the outlook sounded bleak for the US, it was worse for Europe, Thurow said.

Referring to his 1992 book, Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe, and America, he said Europe had all the advantages, including the best-educated workforce.

"The question is, where did I go wrong? In 2002 Europe was the slowest-growing area of the world," Thurow said.

Since then, an inability to forecast and manage future growth has hampered Europe's economic progress, he said.

Thurow had few kind words for the politicians and administrators at the head of the European Union.

He said that the Swedes were probably right to refuse entry into the European Monetary Union in their recent referendum.

"Who would want to join a club that was managed so badly?" Thurow asked

Paul A. Strassmann of consulting company Strassmann Inc., followed Thurow on the stage.

"The golden rule is, he who holds the gold, rules," he said. "The CIO doesn't hold the gold."

What we are seeing is not a technology recession but one induced by chief financial officers (CFOs), he said.

If you want to end your recession and spend some money, he told chief information officers (CIOs) in the audience, you had to act like a CFO.

That included demonstrating the cost savings or return that new investments would provide, he said.

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