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INDUSTRY NEWS: Autumn 2009

R&D investment still exists in West Midlands!

Despite the majority of ICT businesses in the West Midlands region employing fewer than ten people, almost 500 of them are engaging in research and development, according to a survey by the West Midlands ICT cluster.
Even during the recession, 33 percent of the 1,503 companies surveyed - which ranged from ICT consultancies to software design, new media and e-commerce - still invest in research and development, highlighting the importance of technology-derived competitive advantages in the region.

The companies' key strength lies in their diversity and niche product offer, according to the survey results. The companies surveyed operate in a wide range of key market sectors, with 17 percent indicating that they enjoyed a significant competitive advantage in a specific sub-sector or niche market that offers a higher than average opportunity for growth. In addition, 33 percent of respondents - a total of 499 businesses - offer products or services for which they own the Intellectual Property Rights.

Mike Musson, ICT Cluster Manager at Advantage West Midlands, said: 'It is encouraging that so many firms across the Heart of England are still determined to invest in research and development, even though budgets are being squeezed in this economic climate.

'As demonstrated by the ICT businesses surveyed, niche market enterprise is key to growth during a downturn. Our survey also highlights how the region is home to many innovative companies that are pushing ahead to deliver exciting new products and services that customers would struggle to find elsewhere.'

Plan now to combat swine flu absences

Fiona Hannah, director of Essex-based IT firm, Evie Consulting, is urging business owners to proactively address the problem of swine flu and its effect on business continuity, before it impacts on daily operations.

'Make no bones about it, the pandemic will affect the majority of businesses over the forthcoming weeks and months', she says. 'Managers simply can't afford to bury their heads in the sand. It's not a case of 'if' it happens, it's simply 'when'.
Although recent reports indicate that new cases of swine flu are starting to decrease, there were still around 30,000 new instances in the UK reported last week (August).

In response to this potential threat to UK business continuity, the government has urged that provision be made for staff to work from home, during their 14 day recommended absence from work. In order for this to be made possible, checks should be made to ensure all staff have access to broadband facility and VPN software, so they can access their office system from home, quickly and securely.

'Having perhaps dozens of staff absent from work at the same time could have disastrous consequences', advises Fiona. 'Preparation at this stage is quick, easy to do and could save a company thousands of pounds in downtime and lost production. In addition to establishing home networking accessibility, we can also install a system of emergency broadcasting within a firm to update employees, and provide a phone system divert, so the affected individuals are automatically contacted on their mobile phone instead. We are now working with a number of organisations on effective contingency plans. These organisations recognise that a small investment in contingency planning now will more than likely pay dividends, when swine flu hits'.

Security by compliance is no longer working

At ISACA's International Conference in Los Angeles this summer, security professional John Pironti called for a sweeping change in how enterprises deal with information security.

'Security by compliance is no longer working,' said Pironti, who is president of IP Architects and an ISACA volunteer. 'The number and impact of security breaches have dramatically increased in the last couple of years, even though companies were in compliance with standards like PCI, GLBA, FFIEC, FISMA and others.

'If organisations continue to focus on security by compliance, the adversaries will continue to win as their attacks become more effective and more damaging. Compliance can be a good starting point for securing information infrastructure and data if an organisation has not put anything in place previously, but it cannot be the end point of the conversation.

'We need to change the fundamental approach to the way enterprises deal with information protection. We need to stop thinking about information security and start thinking about information risk management.'

According to Pironti, this means protecting data and information instead of just technology.
'The technology is just a vessel for the data and has little value by itself. By focusing on the data, enterprises will be better prepared for the challenges that they may face from any adversary'.

Europe needs to deliver to the cloud

Viviane Reding, European commissioner for information society and media, has announced her Digital Europe strategy. Unlike Lord Carter who focussed on funding and problems in his Digital Britain report, she took her recommendations one step further and talked about how businesses could benefit from web-enabled services, namely Cloud Computing.

Cloud Computing has become a slightly over-used and misunderstood IT buzzword of 2009, but Vivian's recommendation was very sensible and astute - she said that European clouds should be set up within the next five years to encourage business take-up of on-demand IT services. This is exactly what Cloud Computing is designed to deliver - computing services as a utility.

Dan Sutherland, CEO of Carrenza comments: 'Analysts and techies agree that most things IT-related will be moved into the cloud in a few years time, but it's actually more interesting than that. As time goes by IT will no longer be synonymous with physical technology and infrastructure, it will be about what the technology can do. Functionality fed to the enterprise and the individual when they want it and wherever they need it - as a service. This changes the role of IT as businesses will be able to focus on what technology can do for them and not on how it is done'.

Optimistic IT departments can still see (and are preparing for) the light at the end of the tunnel

The National Computing Centre has released it's annual Benchmark of IT Spending and the general consensus is that whilst most organisations are battening down the hatches now, they don't expect to feel the full impact until next year.

Although the IT spending per end-user has shown only a slight decrease since last year, it is the prediction for IT spending growth that clearly reveals the effects of the recession. 42% are still hopeful that they will see an increase, 12% predict it will remain the same but 46% are predicting a decrease - a much larger percentage than in previous years.

However, it's not all doom and gloom as although many respondents have experienced redundancies within their organisation, IT staff spending is the area of most consistent growth. Over 42% predict an increase, suggesting that many organisations are continuing to develop their skills base to meet the new challenges ahead.

The full survey is available from or by calling 0161 242 2121.

CRM delivers the best ROI

ITadviser has dedicated many of it's pages over the years to highlighting how invaluable an effective CRM system can be to your organisation, and The Chartered Institute of Marketing's latest Marketing Trends Survey has revealed that many marketers also believe that CRM delivers the best ROI.

The survey, conducted for The Institute by Ipsos MORI in the Spring, revealed that a quarter of marketers think the best ROI is delivered by CRM activities, particularly among those working in financial services and other services firms, and those in the technology and telecoms sectors. Second highest in delivering good ROI, with half the number of mentions, is public relations.

Advertising, excluding online, is most widely seen as delivering the worst ROI with nearly a quarter of marketers rating it as worst. This is even higher among those working for technology and telecom companies. Second worst performance is sponsorship with one in nine considering it as delivering poor ROI.

Commenting on the findings, David Thorp, director of research and professional development at The Chartered Institute of Marketing said; 'As belts tighten it is clear that marketing spend on advertising is under pressure but it's refreshing to see that through investment in 'knowing your customer', through CRM systems, marketers are able to wisely concentrate their spend in the most effective activities and, as we move into 2010, I'm convinced this more professional approach will stand them in good stead when the economy recovers.'

Email for a copy of the survey's key findings.

(ITadviser, Issue 59, Autumn 2009)



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