Editor's Letter: Mixed Blessings and Technologies to Watch

THE END OF another year is always a mixed blessing, isn't it? There's the relief of wrapping up everything like holiday gifts, from projects and performance reviews to plans for the coming year. But there's also regret for all the things you meant to do but didn't. And then there are the endless lists of predictions, recommendations and well-intended suggestions flying at you from all corners of the industry.

Everyone, it seems, wants to tell CIOs what to do in 2006. Which technologies to watch. Where to spend their budget. When to make that leap of faith into a new initiative.

As Exhibit A, I offer Ten Technologies to Watch in 2006, which we published this fall on our SearchCIO.com website. The piece enumerated the technologies that Gartner Inc. analysts say are becoming mature enough to offer value to businesses. The list included obvious choices (Linux, instant messaging, desktop search tools), along with some unexpected picks (grid computing, location-aware services, pervasive computing).

But the Gartner list is clearly geared to large enterprises, making it (perhaps) intellectually interesting for midmarket CIOs but not exactly applicable. Which brings me to Exhibit B: a letter we received recently from CIO Bob Cushman of Concordia Plan Services in St. Louis. He notes how midsized companies operate with only a few dozen IT staffers, not hundreds, and with far less specialized expertise. "We have generalists who wear many hats," Cushman says. "They're fixing a PC one minute and tweaking a router the next."

As this CIO points out, even the issues surrounding IT/business alignment play out quite differently in the midmarket because of its closer relationships. "We sit right next to the president and the other VPs," he says.

Many midmarket IT shops run full enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management systems, so you already deal with your share of enterprise vendors. But it's harder for you to get their attention, since they often relegate you to channel partners or resellers. One of the most interesting trends to watch as it develops in 2006 will be the behavior of the largest vendors -- IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, Oracle, SAP -- as they recast their relationships with customers in the fast-growing space of emerging midmarket enterprises.

With all that in mind, we offer Exhibit C, our Countdown to 2006, which features a highly focused list of technologies to watch, management ideas to vet, reality checks to make and career moves to consider. Our countdown culminates in a single leadership imperative that (hopefully) will have you nodding in agreement. We developed our list by talking with your peers and with our advisory board members. Thanks to their help, the list is practical and reality-based.

A big part of that reality is a keen focus on business growth. "I believe the CIO has to be a business accelerator," says CIO Mykolas Rambus of W.P. Carey in Portfolio Power. "What I want to be looking for are business opportunities."

To me, that avid attention to business benefits captures the spirit of the IT leaders we've featured in CIO Decisions during its inaugural year. It's been our privilege to shine a light on your accomplishments and challenges. In 2006, we look forward to chronicling the rising star of the midmarket enterprise. So considering what you've all accomplished in 2005, maybe those blessings aren't so mixed after all.

Maryfran Johnson, is the founding editor in chief of CIO Decisions. To comment on this story, email editor@ciodecisions.com.

This was first published in December 2005

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