Smart Computing Will Create Growth Opportunities -- and Challenges -- for IT Vendors

Since 2004, I have been arguing in my research that the tech market would enter a new cycle of innovation and growth starting in 2008. This thesis was based on my review of the US tech market since the 1950s, which showed a pattern of eight-to-ten year cycles of strong growth in tech purchases, followed by eight years of modest growth. This pattern had repeated three times, first with the introduction of mainframe computers in the late 1950s and 1960s, then with the arrival of personal computers in the 1970s and 1980s, and then with ERP software, client-server systems, and the Internet in the period from 1992 to 2000. Based on this pattern, I predicted that the tech market (at least in the US) would grow at about the same rate as the overall economy from 2004 to 2007 as business "digested" that third wave of technology, then decline in 2007 or 2008 due to a recession in that period ("IT Spending Outlook: 2004 To 2008 And Beyond -- Waiting For The Next Big Thing": http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,35063,00.html; "Expect A Tech Slowdown Before The Next Boom -- Forrester's Long-Term IT Spending Forecast For The US, 2005-2010": http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,37816,00.html). While not all aspects of these predictions have come true, overall I believe they were a generally accurate forecast of what happened in the tech market from 2004 to 2008.

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As Expected, Data on Q3 2009 US IT Market Showing Continued Decline, But With Signs of Nearing Bottom

This morning, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis released preliminary data on the US Gross Domestic Product in Q 3 2009, which included data on business investment in computer equipment, software, and other IT equipment (principally communications equipment).  The headline news is the 3.5% increase in real GDP in the US from Q2 2009 to Q3 2009 (at a seasonally adjusted annual rate).  That is the first positive growth in US real GDP since Q2 2008, and the strongest since 2007.  Some special factors, such as the cash-for-clunkers program in autos and the tax incentives for first time home buyers, contributed to this strong growth, so growth in coming quarters will be closer to 2% since these incentives have expired or are likely to do so.  Still, the economic data does suggest that the recession is over. 

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Forrester's Updated IT Market Forecast Shows Worse 2009, But Still Positive Outlook for 2010

In our latest US and Global IT market forecast (http://www.forrester.com/go?docid=53305), Forrester stays steady with our June 2009 projections that the US tech market will start to recover from the downturn in Q4 2009, with the global tech market improving in 2010. However, the 2009 growth rate now shows a bigger decline than our earlier forecasts, for two reasons. First, cutbacks in capital investment, which had earlier been confined to computer and communications equipment, spread in the first half of 2009 to licensed software, causing big declines in this category of tech purchases. Second, upward revisions to US IT investment data in 2007 and 2008 by the US Department of Commerce raised the base periods for measuring 2009 growth, making the 2009 declines even greater than before. Thus, we now project a -9.3% decline in US tech purchases in 2009, compared to a 5.1% decline in our June forecast. But those revisions confirmed our position that a tech boom was starting to take shape in 2008, before being rudely interrupted by the September financial. The weak results in early 2009 also mean that the market will hit bottom sooner, setting a low base for year-over-year growth starting in Q4 2009 and into 2010.

The story is the same for the global outlook. 2009 now looks worse than our previous forecasts, but 2010 still looks like a year of solid recovery. One factor that will help reported vendor results (especially for US vendors) is the decline in the value of the US dollar against major currencies since March of 2009. The value of the dollar is now about where it was a year ago, so vendors will be able to report Q4 2009 revenues in US dollars that will be better than their currency-adjusted numbers.

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IBM Moves Ahead In Smart Computing, But Still Has Ways To Go

IBM threw a big event in New York City on Thursday, October 1, and Friday, October 2, to publicize its Smarter Cities initiative, part of its Smarter Planet marketing message. The event featured an impressive list of politicians (Mayor Bloomberg, NY Governor Patterson, governors from Vermont and North Carolina) and CEOs (CEOs from ABB, Verizon, American Electric Power, etc.). I was part of the crowd of hundreds of attendees and IBMers on Friday, and my colleague Doug Washburn attended on Thursday.

It would be easy to dismiss this as part of hype machinery that IBM is running to build awareness of and create customers for its Smarter Planet initiative and the emerging offerings that it is creating under that rubric. But I think there is more going on here. What IBM is really doing is creating a vision - or more precisely, half a dozen visions - of how a new generation of technology can help address some critical challenges facing the planet. Visions of course can easily become hype. But as several speakers noted, visions are also a necessary first step in any transformation process, building awareness of what can be different at the end that will inspire people to start the journey. And IBM to its credit put concrete examples behind the proposals.

Here is what IBM is doing right:

  • Focusing on key social and economic problems facing many countries around the world. Cities and national governments face challenges of providing healthcare more efficiently, improving the quality and delivery of education, managing greater and greater volumes of people travel and goods transportation, providing public safety and security in the face of increased threats of terrorism and persistence of crime, and encouraging energy conservation and alternative energies to counter global warming. These are the problems that IBM's Smarter Cities initiative focused on.
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