For several years now, the influential analyst firm Gartner has been issuing an annual list of suggestions for CIOs’ new year resolutions. Of course, the problem with such lists is that they tend not to vary too much from year to year: technology might move very quickly but strategic planning still tends towards the glacial.

However, the shocking conclusion to 2008 has sent many firms scampering to revise their plans, striking red lines through budget items and generally settling for a holding pattern rather than pursuing rapid growth.

The good news – if it can be so described – is that organisations will have to think different in 2009, and that lateral decision-making process is reflected in Gartner’s latest list. CIO talked to John Mahoney, Gartner vice president, to discuss the year ahead and his firm’s Top 10 predictions, grouped under three themes. “The purpose of the list is to get people to sit up and take notice,” he says by way of introduction.

Theme One: Reinforce enduring strengths and assets

1. Start building an alumni network Gartner suggests that in order to maintain holders of legacy and other skills firms should establish networks of ex-staff. This might comprise a web page or use social networking tools and could include reward schemes for useful suggestions.

Mahoney agrees that some might find this fanciful, however.

“One journalist I spoke to said, ‘Are you seriously telling me that when you fire somebody your last question is would you like to join our alumni network?’” he laughs. “But if you can say, ‘Look, it’s tough out there but let’s stay in touch it might be good for both parties because you might end up re-hiring that person or using them part-time or as a stringer.”

2. Stop being the exception that enforces the rules.

For Gartner, this means leading by example, for example, in terms of body language, manner of dress or behaviour. For example, the CIO or other executive who parades the latest smartphone might not be most popular with staff asked to press on with an older model.

“It’s not that the upgrade to the latest smartphone or laptop is going to make any difference at all to the total budget but it’s about setting an example,” Mahoney argues. “There are people who make an announcement about the need for conspicuous frugality and then go off to their next meeting in a heated, chauffeur-driven limousine rather than taking the tram. One CIO we met uses a six-year-old cellphone and there’s a message there that says it’s sufficient for the purpose. Even new technology for the company might be older technologies you haven’t yet adopted.”

3. Start scouting for key talent

With so many layoffs expected or having already taken place, there will be a buyers’ market for IT talent in 2009. CIOs should resist the temptation to freeze hiring and identify ideal candidates after discussing with HR and finance executives.

“The powers that be would give you a dusty answer if you said ‘I’ve got a wonderful plan and I’d like to hire all these wonderful people’ but is it worth doing some hiring? Absolutely. You might be weak on security experts, enterprise architects or network engineers. The simple, unfortunate, brutal truth is that there are going to be more good people on the market now rather than at any other time.”

Theme Two: Prepare for the next change

4. Start preparing for the unexpected

Gartner suggests challenging authority with counterpoint views that will help guard against complacence.

“Preparing for multiple corners and multiple unknowns and questioning the conventional wisdom is important,” Maloney says. “You need to open the window on scenario planning and not bet the farm on one thing occurring.”

5. Start using social systems yourself
CIOs who use social software won’t get caught out in meetings and might come up with new ideas on the cheap but it’s important get your hands dirty.

“Show you’re investing time in using it yourself,” Mahoney advises. “Someone can tell you what it’s like to eat a nice cheese or walk through the entrance of the Taj Mahal but it’s not the same as doing it yourself.”

6. Start taking cloud computing seriously

Cloud computing uptake offers the prospect of a completely new way of provisioning IT so it might pay to work on understanding it now, especially as cost saving is a key promise of the model.

“Some organisations are already well down the road but the mainstream will be still in the trough of disillusionment,” Mahoney says. “The cloud is susceptible to the conclusion that this is not terribly productive in the short term. Our strong feeling is that this is not something you can leave until later.”

Theme Three: Survive in 2009 without collateral damage

7. Stop ignoring people and opting for soft targets

It’s natural that CIOs will pressurised to take decisive action and the natural, default option will be to cut long-term projects. However, there may be a away to keep on visionaries.

“If you’re working for a company driven by quarterly performance and stock performance, one of the things the CIO will be asked to do will be to contribute to metrics. The short-term achievements of business process designers or enterprise architects might be difficult to demonstrate but if you’re under pressure to demonstrate their short-term sustainability, explain the situation and get them working on some short-term projects so you can defend your desire to keep them through the downturn.”

8. Start offering your vendors a free lunch

Tragically, Gartner advises that CIOs should say ‘no’ to courtesy trips and instead invite them for no-frills lunches to show their thrift and seriousness.

“You’re sending a message that you’re doing everything you can to sustain this business and keeping a level of interaction with senior people at major partners,” Mahoney says.

9. Stop fearing the future and start driving it

That said, there’s no need to take them to the nearest “greasy spoon”, Mahoiney notes. “Don’t be ridiculous about it. I knew a chairman who said that lunches should be provided by staff internally, CIOs should also reflect conspicuous frugality but not be defined by it. They should resolve to occasionally and visibly splash out a little – where it really matters to staff moral such as training courses or software development tools. Work on real money saving like flying economy instead of business class – but avoid empty-gesture cost cutting such as taking cookies off the plate at management meetings.

Theme 4 and Resolution #10: Newer technologies to get experience of in 2009: With so much work to do, Gartner reminded CIOs that they need to protect the time to stay in touch and get ‘hands-on’ with some key technologies in 2009:

• e-book readers
• Google Chrome
• Building mini cloud applications
• YouTube as a default search engine for a day
• HD teleconferencing

To conclude, Mr Raskino said: “It seems inevitable tough times will hit most sectors at some point in 2009, so CIOs shouldn’t wait for instructions to act. There’s plenty they can do to protect assets and thrive on the change opportunities – but they must start planning their way out right now.”