Can high tech shelter you from the economic storm?
The numbers seem to get darker every day.
There were more layoffs between December 2000 and February 2001, according to the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, than during all of 2000. Webmergers.com reported 49 dot-com deaths over the same period, of which 52 percent were e-commerce wannabes. Cisco Systems stock, once considered a sure thing, dropped by 70 percent from the year prior. WorldCom shares lost even more of their value since the early post-merger euphoria of 1999. Another gloom indicator: Attendance at the prestigious Global Internet Summit in Northern Virginia was cut by a third.
Feel the Fear & Move On
So, should IT specialists hunker down for six more weeks (months? years?) of cold employment prospects? Or, as the man said, have we nothing to fear but fear itself?
The last killer app was net connectivity, and that was three years ago.
"We are not going to have a recession," says Michael Maynard, president of Azimuth Partners, an IT consulting firm in Massachusetts. "But we will have a recession in certain parts of IT, such as personal computers and all the products associated with them. The last killer app was net connectivity, and that was three years ago. The only thing new in PCs since then has been higher clock speed. If you play games, you need that. But if you're among the 60 percent of users who do only e-mail, you don't."
Stephen Potts, president of Virginia-based Professional Services International, agrees. "I don't believe we're headed for a prolonged recession," he says, "but we are going through a well-deserved shakeout in the dot-com business because U.S. companies have saturated the market. They've been overspending on IT resources for the last 12 years, and that's created an over-capacity on the desktop."
The spending splurge has also made a straight line of the previously meteoric PC power curve. In those long lost days of yesteryear, new machines that dominated the field would hit the street every six months. But now there's less room at the top, and the genuine technical milestones are more finite.
And There Was Light
What lies at the end of this IT tunnel? Several new areas of growth may be as bright as the PC once was. One hot idea, worthy of individual mention, is outsourcing.
"Outsourcing of everything is in vogue for several reasons," says Larry Marion, president of Triangle Publishing Services. "Your time to market is faster because you're not trying to build something from scratch--you can get it quickly from an expert. It's too hard to find and keep talented technicians in many key technical areas, such as HTML coders. And no one has the funds to build competency in the variety of areas where companies most need it."
Potts puts his money on PDA software and voice recognition. And Christopher Meyer, vice president and managing director of the Cap Gemini Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation, touts embedded software for networking devices, such as the one that probably runs your thermostat and air conditioner.
Maynard emphasizes products outside the PC's gravitational pull, such as middleware, infrastructure, optical networking, and anything else that makes applications work faster. "The next killer app is going to be unified messaging," he predicts. "There's a huge pent-up demand for it, because people want to be able to use the Internet for all forms of communication at once. But the technology isn't there to make it happen. If you buy something from Ericsson, for example, there's no guarantee it will work with the same kind of product from Nokia. And it's going to be a couple of years before that happens."
Potts expands upon his prediction as well: "PDAs are exploding because they're meeting a need that wasn't fulfilled. But they have to expand their capacity and offset the demand for laptops. People want handhelds that can do everything. There's a huge opportunity out there for companies that can put 64K of processing memory into a PDA to get it voice-activated. That will enable a new set of killer applications."
Did someone just say they saw a train coming?
Willie Schatz has written about the technology of business and the business of technology for 21 years. He has been awarded the Computer Press Association News Story of the Year, two Jesse H. Neal Editorial Achievement Awards, and an adjunct professorship at the University of Maryland's College of Journalism. Currently principal of The Schatz Group, he writes investigative reports, feature pieces, and news stories for a variety of prestigious publications. Schatz is also a contributor to YourWriters.com.