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After years of maintenance-only spending, IT leaders are ready to invest. Find out which technologies - and which IT professionals - are pulling down the dough.
IT opens its wallet
Optimism is finally returning to the IT sector after years of fiscal gloom as companies intensify spending and open the door to new hires.
IT departments are girding to move full speed ahead with projects in the hot areas of big data, mobile and the cloud, according to TEKsystems' 2014 Annual IT Forecast, an online survey of 900 IT leaders in the United States and Canada.
"IT leaders have more overall confidence," reports Jason Hayman, research manager for TEKsystems, an IT services, staffing and talent management company. "The 'do only maintenance, stand on the sidelines' mentality is finally being put aside."
Read on to find out where IT plans to spend its money in 2014.
Budgets on the rise
The economy's slow but steady climb towards positive growth is giving organizations the confidence to bolster spending, and IT leaders believe they will benefit from that shift in thinking.
Some 62% of IT leaders surveyed expect to see an increase in their 2014 IT budgets, compared to last year when only 48% anticipated budget increases. At the same time, leaders expecting budget decreases dropped from 16% last year to just 12% for 2014.
That's good news for IT leaders who spent the last six to 12 months building plans and making commitments to the business side of the house, the report points out, because in 2014 they'll be expected to deliver on those promises.
No risky business
While dollars earmarked for training, infrastructure project services, and application and infrastructure outsourcing services will remain pretty consistent with last year's spend, nearly half of IT leaders surveyed said they expect to dole out more on consulting services as they begin to implement new applications and build out modern infrastructure.
"IT spending is a shadow of the overall economic conditions," notes TEKsystems' Hayman. "It's very similar to what's happened with the stock market. People stood on the sidelines until they were comfortable with the underlying conditions and have jumped back in. They're not making risky investments, but ones that they're pretty sure will have a solid return on investment. You could say the same about IT leaders' views towards IT projects and initiatives."
"Doers" in top demand
Filling the "doer" positions will be a top priority for organizations in 2014. Programmers, developers and project managers top the list of most-in-need skill sets, while leadership talent -- including C-suite executives, VP and director-level positions, even IT managers and business analysts -- takes a back seat, according to survey respondents.
"IT departments have run pretty lean over the last few years," says Hayman. "As more projects are set into motion, the most important step is to have the people on staff that can do the hands-on work. Over time, as the projects and staff increase, additional management roles will be required, but that will happen later in the process."
By far, developers and programmers will be the most highly sought-after talent as IT shops finally start implementing projects. The five most difficult IT roles to fill, in order, are programmers and developers, architects, software engineers, business analysts and project managers, according to the survey results.
"We have been challenged with finding good developers with a solid design and analysis background," confirms Joseph Lezon, chief technology officer at jewelry maker Alex and Ani, which is planning a number of initiatives in 2014 centered around mobile applications, data warehouses and business intelligence.
Business initiatives trump operational activities
With budgets tight these last few years, organizations got away with limiting spending to operational IT projects that "kept the lights on" and maintained status quo. Not so in 2014 when IT departments will shift focus back to initiatives that drive revenue growth and improve business processes, the survey found.
ARINC, a global provider of communications, engineering and integration solutions, was sold in 2013 to Rockwell Collins, so the priority for 2014 will be to integrate some corporate systems, according to Rick Napolitano, CIO and VP of corporate technology. "We are to be a standalone business unit so individual applications may be left alone," he says, but the financial and communications platforms will definitely be combined.
Big data and mobile rule the roost
Business intelligence/big data, security and mobile will continue to be hot this year, with cloud computing and virtualization next in the running. Employees want BI tools to measure and analyze data in new ways, and users are looking to get access to this data and do work whenever and wherever they are, on their preferred mobile device.
At Alex and Ani, big data and analytics head up the company's 2014 IT agenda. "Understanding how to segment our sales, our customers and our product are very important," says CTO Joseph Lezon. "It will help us understand where our customers are, who our customers are, what they are purchasing and where. This will also help us understand potential new locations for retail stores."
Growth, profitability are top priorities
Increasing growth and profitability, reducing costs and managing the workforce are high on the list of organizational priorities in 2014, and IT will be called upon to help companies achieve these goals.
Some 82% of IT leaders surveyed said their top initiatives for 2014 will be aimed at driving revenue growth, while 68% of IT leaders are championing projects designed to reduce costs, improve efficiency, consolidate and standardize from an operations standpoint.
Raises are in
Say goodbye to the salary caps of the last few years -- IT organizations are getting the go-ahead this year to pay a bit more to onboard and retain good talent.
More than 80% of those surveyed are preparing to give salary increases in 2014, with 71% anticipating increases of more than 5%. Programmers and developers, software engineers, project managers and architects top the list of those most likely to see increases.
Interestingly, professionals specializing in hot areas like business intelligence, big data and the cloud have moved down the list, although most respondents still expect those roles to command pay increases.
Across-the-board spending increases
Spending increases will be directed to mobile, cloud, security, storage and big data/business intelligence initiatives.
The findings show high demand for mobile access to data and applications, along with a need to bulk up the cloud, security and storage aspects of infrastructure to accommodate new computing preferences. Even the areas with the least amount of new investment -- CRM, social and ERP -- will get increases in spending, say one-third of IT leaders surveyed.
"Market leaders are taking advantage of technologies that expand and extend the touchpoints within the business process," explains TEKsystems' Hayman. "As for security, if you're gathering and maintaining more data, and making data available in a variety of formats, it needs to be secured."
Calling all contractors
While companies are hiring and expanding in-house IT skills, it is next to impossible to cover the range of skills required to support today's modern infrastructure. As a result, nearly one in four IT workers is contracted on a contingent basis, and 46% of survey respondents expect that number to increase in 2014.
That finding is consistent with Computerworld reporting that sees the tech industry shifting toward a more independent, contingent IT workforce.
TEKsystems survey respondents said temporary headcount at their organizations is typically deployed for emerging needs like a new security initiative or mobile app development.
For more prognostications, check out Computerworld's Forecast 2014.