As the harsh realities of the fast-gathering and global recessionary storm hit home, I hear the sounds of systems hatches being battened down all around. Prudence so dictates, I am told, for now is not the time to take risks or launch new projects.

And yet the storm looks set to be both severe and long-lasting. Is the right policy really to lock down the status quo, especially if it includes much inflexible and expensive legacy, leaving firms ill-positioned to shed cost and respond flexibly to the inevitable new challenges?

I believe that such ‘prudence’ will prove in time to be the higher-risk option. I propose instead a determined focus on three transformational exercises that will deliver rapid benefits in the form of sharply reduced operational costs and sharply increased operational flexibilities – both vital to steering a lower risk, more positive systems course through this long and severe recessionary gales.

First, a little context. December marks the fiftieth anniversary of the introduction of direct dialling in the UK.

The BBC marked this anniversary by releasing a recording of the Queen placing her very first direct-dial call, to the Provost of Edinburgh. Think of the kit that the Queen used 50 years ago, then think of your mobile phone. What has Moore’s Law wrought! Or rather, think of what Moore’s Law has enabled and what determined commerce has then delivered. A lot of operational cost cut – and a lot of operational flexibility gained.

The foundations of much of current systems practice, both demand (user/client) side and supply (vendor) side, have been totally eroded and radically reshaped by the very same impact of Moore’s Law since the Millennium. This is why I judge that the better, lower risk and more cash-conserving course is to get serious and prepare to surf three now well established transformational waves that the current recessionary storm won’t knock off course.

The first is the commoditisation of converged and integrated data processing, data storage and data networking as services. The leads given by the likes of Google and Amazon.com serve as highly effective demonstration projects, and IBM’s growing investment in a network of cloud-computing facilities says that the big boys have now got the message. This new reality offers access to highly scalable on-demand capacity with commoditised transactional costs, great flexibility for change, and the end of the need to raid the corporate capital programme.

Consider the systems benefits gained for steering a business more effectively through the recessionary storm: sharply reduced operational costs and sharply raised operational flexibility. The acid test of any established IT outsourcing or infrastructural facilities management supplier is surely their ability to deliver the benefits of this transformational wave speedily and effectively. The time is ripe for a determined client-side insistence that the benefits of this first transformational wave be delivered, and fast.

The second wave is the software-as-a-service-enabled reshaping of the software supply chain. This is about software companies converting businesses that are high people:technology ratio ventures (expensive in ‘bums on seats’ terms) into new businesses that are high technology:people ratio ventures (fewer ‘bums on seats’ and more cost competitive).

Established software vendors resist the move for obvious reasons: new business models must be launched that present very real challenges in maintaining established levels of profitability. New market entrants like Salesforce.com, free of such vested interests, are more willing to break the mould. These entrants still need to further develop their service offers to fully meet corporate requirements, but the sharp lowering of operational costs and sharp gain in operational flexibility they promise for high-volume and generic back-office and front-office services justifies determined client-side insistence that the benefits of this second transformational wave also be delivered, and fast.

Exploitation of the third wave lies more directly in the hands of the contemporary CIO and CTO. Service oriented architectures (SOA) now increasingly provide the means to cut the Gordian knot of that legacy based on older, tightly integrated architectures. New-generation business process management capabilities, built holistically with open systems/SOA architectures at their core, enable what I have labelled subversive change – fast and simple projects that cut the restraints of tightly coupled legacy, delivering fast returns. Unravelled into the new world of the loosely coupled, key corporate systems are much better placed to flexibly respond to the challenges now faced.

These three transformations promise to position corporate systems with a far better modus operandi to navigate the gathering recessionary storm, through a common emphasis on sharply reduced operational costs, and sharply raised operational flexibility. A lower-risk option than battening down the hatches, surely.

Read more from Richard Sykes:

Richard Sykes: It’s the humans, stupid!

Richard Sykes: outsourcing and offshoring are loaded terms

Richard Sykes: History in the making