Outlook 2006: Confidence Is Up, Barely

Businesses have ambitious tech projects planned for the months ahead. But many IT departments will have to pull them off with limited resources and flat budgets.
IT Spending IncreasingUsing new and enhanced predictive-modeling and informatics tools, Cigna plans to roll out services that let members go online to the portal and look up average cost and quality information about physician services in their region. The company this year also will provide facility-level cost and quality information, including outpatient radiology services such as CT scans and MRIs, allowing patients to shop around a region for care. "There's a lot of price variation," Storer says.

Although Cigna still offers more traditional health plans, the company also offers higher-deductible plans, in which consumers pay a bigger co-payments and other health-care costs in exchange for lower premiums. The new online services will be part of the core services Cigna makes available to all members, regardless of their benefit plans, Storer says.

Cigna also will ramp up its data-mining and analytics efforts to provide aggregate cost-comparison information to employers, so that an employer in the transportation industry can compare its employee health costs and needs with transportation-industry averages.

Web Experience
Enhancing client experiences also is a key focus this year at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., says Karen Pascoe, client experience analyst at the financial-services company. Pascoe is part of a new 12-person team that's looking at how to better use the Internet and enhance client experience. The team is using Ajax--or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML--Web technology to provide applications that will give clients a richer Internet experience and let customers such as pension-fund or mutual-fund managers get more specific data on a single screen, rather than needing to click through several screens to find the financial data for which they're looking. Ajax, which powers Web applications such as Google Maps, should speed client interaction. "Any way we can provide information reporting on a single screen rather than [on] three or four screens" is a value and time-saver for clients, she says.

Budget AllocationFor many companies, improving security is a never-ending task; it ranked in the top five priorities this year and last year. "The Internet is a way for people to save money, but you need to be vigilant," says Dennis Biederman, VP of global IT services at APW Ltd., a $700 million-a-year manufacturer of electrical enclosure products. "There are new challenges and threats each year." And while security efforts likely won't eat up a lot of money from APW's IT budget in 2006, it will require people and time, he says.

Under consideration is deploying biometrics to APW's road warriors. "Because our people travel, they are susceptible to losing or misplacing their [laptops] at customer sites or vendors," he says. Biometrics is one of the ways to ensure that what's on the laptop is seen only by people authorized to see it. Also, APW is testing Wi-Fi for its traveling workers, "but that's a potential security risk, too," Biederman says.

Outlook 2006

  • Outlook 2006: Confidence Is Up, Barely
  • Job Jitters Just Won't Stop
  • Security: Wanted: Up-Front Security
  • Outsourcing: If You Can, You Must
  • Storage: SANs Bring Sanity To Storage
  • Back at Motorcars International, IT investment is going "way, way up" in 2006, Comrie says. He predicts a fast return on investment from the company's big VoIP and unified-messaging push. The 3Com services and gear involved with the deployment will cost $50,000 for Motorcar International's dealerships in Dallas and Houston, and about another $10,000 to $15,000 for its other offices. Those systems will be supported centrally by Comrie, which is a big cost savings.

    But that's not the big payoff. "Ultimately, everything is about customer relations," he says. When you're selling cars for up to a half-million dollars, improving customer relationships is priceless.