A quick game of buzzword bingo will soon reveal how many times the phrase ‘keeping the lights on' is being heard in the average boardroom. As senior management wields the sword, IT departments up and down the land are being told they will have to do ‘more with less' and ‘focus on the basics'. While the sentiment is understandable the thinking is less so. All recessions end and when the upturn finally comes and the board is ready to reinvest in technology once again they may find that they no longer have an IT department.

So what can CIOs do to protect their investment? According to recent research by Forrester, "How a CIO manages relationships and communicates with peers will strongly shape perceptions of IT effectiveness and either strengthen or weaken the impact of its efforts - especially during economic downturns."

But what does this mean? Two things. Firstly, CIOs should ensure that the board (and the CFO in particular) actually understand the impact of budget cuts - not just on the bottom line but on the performance of the business.

Secondly, CIOs must ensure that the projects that are being kept alive are being adequately governed and reviewed so that the benefits and outcomes can be clearly communicated to the executive.

Proving the value of IT has always been a key part of the CIOs role but this becomes even more critical during a recession, not least because being valued is what keeps the workforce happy. The Forrester report also points to the fact that "too often, when budgets are cut, so is the capability that matters most to business constituents. And as IT budgets shrink, business satisfaction with IT is in danger of declining on an even steeper slope."

A recent Fujitsu study reported that the recession is causing CIOs to restrict innovation. Although understandable, this will no doubt impact how IT is viewed by the business. For those in the IT department, unhappy ‘customers' means a considerable decline in job satisfaction. Not only are they not getting to do the kind of high-value, high-impact projects that make their jobs rewarding but they are being bashed for a perceived lack of support from IT for the business.



Protecting against this requires a strong relationship between you, the CIO, and the business. Not rocket science but the value of it really comes into its own when times are tough. One of the primary benefits is the ability to work with the business to help them get the projects that they want to kick off approved by the board. All too often the IT department is only involved in projects once they have been signed off but by working in partnership with the business team proposing it you can help them build a business case and perhaps uncover additional benefits that they might be unaware of. BT told SMEs that IT investment is key to surviving the recession - is that something larger enterprises should be considering too?

Investing in tools that drive the business forward can't be a bad thing in any economic climate. Right now, the braver companies are taking advantage of the recession and using data to focus on where to find opportunity and hit their competitors while they are making cuts. They are focusing on where to invest, where to control costs and where to withdraw. Aggressively exploiting data through business intelligence is the lowest risk survival and growth option, and consistently beats fact-free gut decisions.

You can also help the business build in effective SLAs that allow them to demonstrate value and measure success. Internal SLAs are also an effective way of demonstrating the value of the IT team and to set realistic expectations of what can be achieved - especially when you are probably looking at a budget that is less than half what you would like it to be.

Going back to what I said about protecting your investment, providing interesting and educational challenges to your team is a good way of keeping them motivated. These often require little in the way of investment but provide an outlet for their creativity and ambition and also act as training. It is also the perfect time to get the team focused inwardly, taking on the challenges that fall to the bottom of the list when a firm is focused on growth.

Keeping a team motivated enough to want to stay with you when things improve is one of the biggest challenges for a CIO in a downturn. Many of you will have spent years building up your department and the talent it contains. Losing it to the lure of greener pastures is a very real threat. As the Forrester report concludes: "Now is the time to sit down with managers and staffers and assure them that they are valued. CIOs may be forced to limit raises and bonuses, but can still motivate staff through on-the-job training and rotation."