Economic crisis means double duty for IT pros

Economic crisis means double duty for IT pros

IT professionals with frozen budgets and strapped staff take on dual roles to weather economic storm

Economic uncertainty is driving CIOs to halt projects, freeze hiring and pile more responsibilities on existing IT staff.

High-tech has been known to weather economic crises better than other industries due in part to its role as an enabler to businesses. But the recent deluge of financial failures is causing enterprise IT executives to rethink expenditures in the coming months. For instance, a CIO Executive Board survey of 50 IT leaders in September revealed that 61 percent are re-evaluating 2009 budget plans, 59 percent are putting nonessential IT projects on hold, and 24 percent have introduced a hiring freeze in IT.

"For the average company, the trend is a lot of caution going forward. There is too much uncertainty around the bailout and the national election for IT leaders to be confident in new investments," says John Estes, a vice president with IT staffing and consulting firm Robert Half Technology.

This caution will translate into more work for existing network executives -- without any wiggle room in their budget or access to more personnel. The idea of donning multiple hats isn't a new one for many IT shops, but today's economy is changing what used to be a quick fix into standard operating procedure.

"Our operating expenditure budgets have been frozen and cut, and we currently have a hiring freeze in effect. There is an obvious direct financial impact to our institution when there is this amount of uncertainty in the market," says John Turner, director of networks and systems at Brandeis University.

As a member of senior management, Turner says it's his job to align existing staff with emerging responsibilities. For instance, the need for storage administration at Brandeis drove Turner to assign additional responsibilities to a systems engineer and a database administrator. While other organizations may be able to create a new position based on the need to better manage storage, Turner doesn't have that option. But he says putting the work on existing staff can provide the IT professional some benefits.

"They are in the trenches and they are not removed from any bit of the technology, which is good in terms of broadening their knowledge and skills," Turner explains. "Plus when a systems engineer needs storage, in our case, he doesn't have to request the space; he can provision it on his own."

The downside is that IT at Brandeis has been operating on a tight budget for years, and additional economic stress further burdens existing staff and puts limitations on what IT can accomplish in the long term.

"Brandeis has not been graced with a large staffing budget, and the problem when you do things efficiently to start is that when a crisis occurs and there is a budget crunch, there is nowhere to cut from," he says. "The stress on staff is short term, they can only do so much work for so long, but long term the institution will suffer if we can't hire."

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