Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Companies seek an edge through engaged employees

Companies now have the tools to establish how happy a work force is with their work and their employer. Once they have established this, they can then make improvements, increase employee engagement and boost performance says a new PricewaterhouseCoopers report.

The increasingly recognized link between high levels of employee commitment and bottom line results means business leaders all over the world are exploring engagement metrics and measures. They can be used to enhance the image of the company as a responsible employer, or improve employee retention in fast developing markets where staff turnover is high due to a buoyant labor market.

Rapid economic change and uncertainty in many markets makes such measures more relevant than ever. Levels of engagement are even beginning to be perceived by some investors as an important indicator of a company’s financial health and sustainability.

The report also charts the rise of a new kind of offshoring - Knowledge Process Offshoring (KPO) - where traditionally sacrosanct knowledge or judgement services such as research and sales and marketing are run from other countries. The KPO market globally is predicted to grow to $16.7 billion by 2010-2011, implying an annual growth rate of 39% and employing some 390,000 professionals by March 2011. Here, countries such as India, China, Russia, Poland, Hungary and republics from the former Soviet Union provide high levels of skills at comparatively low cost for many western economies experiencing skills gaps.

A new concept of ‘connected sourcing’ is also emerging. This sees organizations increasingly focusing on what they do best and then orchestrating a portfolio of relationships for the rest. This requires a new approach and highly developed levels of collaboration, transparency, trust and relationship management.

A further development is found in the area of talent management. The traditional focus on high performers and ‘high flyers’ is shifting to include ‘pivotal employees’. These are segments of the workforce that are expected to create value and determine the success of the organization. They can range from the receptionist to the sales director and the contribution of these core people has a disproportionate impact on determining both the success of an organization and its sustainability.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Study Finds U.S. IT Executives Cutting Budgets and Consolidating Assets in 2008

With talk of recession dominating business discussions in the United States and worldwide, senior IT executives in the U.S. are already feeling a negative effect on their budgets for new projects in 2008. The impact of a slowing economy was confirmed in recent IDC interviews with 27 CIOs and senior IT leaders.

The interviews, conducted as part of IDC's Software and Services Leading Indicators research service, focused on the issues currently facing technology leaders in both large public (70%) and private (30%) companies across a variety of industries. The interviews did not include public sector and educational organizations.

Key findings from IDC's interviews include the following:

--Many U.S. IT organizations are already reducing their spending for 2008, with more than half of the executives citing existing negative impact on the budgets from the economy. Approximately one-half of the remaining interviewees were citing a neutral effect to-date, but in general were expecting a negative future impact.

--Nearly 70% of the executives indicated that funding is moving back to being more centralized, in part for better control and efficiency.

--Infrastructure improvement, including data center consolidation and virtualization, application consolidation, and data consolidation, was most frequently mentioned as a priority aimed at achieving lower cost, higher performance IT.

--Almost all of the interviewees (25 of 27) are engaged in some form of application modernization, citing a large remaining core of aging applications. Many of these applications are industry specific. Complicating factors include legacy client/server architectures and hard to support languages, including COBOL and Visual Basic.

--IT executives in the U.S. are facing real skill shortages in areas like SAP, .Net, VOIP, and Java, as well as business analysis, security administration, and project management. However, these executives, who are also faced with an aging U.S. IT workforce, are very open to acquiring these skills externally.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Study Identifies Jobs at Risk for Offshoring, and Implications and Benefits for the U.S. Job Market

According to a new survey by and researchers at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, thirteen percent of employers said their companies outsourced work to third party vendors outside the country in 2007. The same amount said they would do so in 2008. Seven percent of employers offshored job functions to foreign affiliates in 2007; 9 percent plan to do so in 2008. Plans to offshore to third party vendors in 2008 are more prevalent in the Northeast and West at 15 percent compared to 12 percent in the South and 10 percent in the Midwest.

Looking forward, among employers who offshore, 44 percent estimate less than 5 percent of their jobs will ultimately be sent overseas while 39 percent project more than 10 percent of their jobs will eventually be offshored.

According to respondents who offshore, more firms are offshoring high-wage, high-skill jobs that were once thought to be immune to global competition. Twenty-eight percent of these employers reported more high-skill services positions are being sent overseas to third parties or foreign affiliates in need of management, technology and sales and marketing know-how. The majority of employers who offshore (69 percent) believe high-skill services positions are at equal or more risk of being offshored than low-skill jobs.

Examples of jobs companies plan to offshore:

-- Computer programmers - 32 percent
-- Software developers - 32 percent
-- Customer service - 25 percent
-- Systems analysts - 16 percent
-- Sales managers - 8 percent
-- Graphic designers - 8 percent
-- HR personnel - 7 percent
-- General managers - 6 percent
-- Marketing personnel - 5 percent

Among industries, technology services, telecommunications, insurance, manufacturing, engineering, banking & finance, oil, travel, utilities and communications all reported higher rates for offshoring.

Of all workers who reported being displaced by offshoring, one-in-five (21 percent) said they were reassigned within the company. Seventy-one percent were let go. Of those who were reassigned, 76 percent reported it was a lateral move while 7 percent reported they benefited from either a promotion, higher compensation or both. Of those who left the company, 81 percent went to another employer that was not aggressively offshoring.

While U.S. workers have lost jobs as a result of offshoring, companies are making the argument that offshoring is ultimately benefiting the American workforce. Twenty-eight percent of employers who offshored jobs said offshoring has already enabled them to create new, better jobs of different types in the U.S.

Cost-savings is the primary motivator for offshoring, according to 64 percent of respondents. Looking at information technology specifically, nearly half (49 percent) say they save over $20,000 per head on average by offshoring. Fifteen percent of employers say they are saving more than $50,000 per head.

Twenty-seven percent of respondents cited availability of skills and 19 percent pointed to plans for expansion in a particular market as their main reasons for offshoring.

Offshoring companies are predominantly drawn to South Asia with 44 percent of employers who offshore stating they sent jobs to India. Others key locations include China (24 percent), Mexico (12 percent), Canada (9 percent), Germany (8 percent), the Philippines (7 percent) and the U.K. (7 percent).

When respondents who don't offshore were asked why their companies chose not to, one-in-five (21 percent) said they felt it is important to keep jobs in the U.S. Fourteen percent reported their customers would not respond favorably and 10 percent said they work with sensitive data. Difficulty to build trust across borders, the cost associated with monitoring workers and shipping/materials, and the availability of a skilled labor pool abroad were also cited.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Research Indicates Only 12 Percent of Companies Have Adequate IT Governance

IT Governance Limited polled opinions of almost 100 technology and compliance professionals on a range of IT governance issues. Results found that only 12 percent of businesses take technology seriously enough to operate full board-level oversight of their IT resources. Despite increasing compliance pressures under Sarbanes-Oxley, the UK Combined Code, HIPAA and other regulatory regimes, boards still appear to be lagging badly in implementing appropriate IT governance measures. IT governance frameworks also appear to be used in less than 50 percent of organizations.

Despite the critical importance of technology to most organizations, only 12 percent said that IT governance was important in their organizations and that board-level IT oversight committees existed. While a further 16.5 percent reported that progress was being made towards achieving this, more than 50 percent indicated that this was far from the case.

Respondents were similarly skeptical about the grasp that board members have of technology’s importance. Less than 7 percent said that board members understood the risks posed to business operations by information and IT systems. In contrast, 49 percent said this was not the case, with over 22 percent stating this emphatically.

Over 57 percent said that directors and officers failed to understand the age and health of the current IT portfolio and the business implications of deferring maintenance. Meanwhile, less than 37 percent said that IT governance frameworks were integrated with their company’s enterprise risk management regime, with less than 7 percent saying that this was achieved fully.

Asked if their companies used standard IT governance frameworks, such as ITIL, CoBIT, ISO17799 or PMBOK, 9 percent said yes, and 19 percent said that good progress was being made towards this. However, over 21 percent said such frameworks were used only occasionally, and fully 30 percent indicated that they were not used at all.

Source: DMReview

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

U.S. Growth Slips, But Worldwide PC Shipments Remain Healthy

Worldwide PC shipments grew by 14.6% to 69.5 million units in the first quarter of 2008 (1Q08), which was above previous estimates of 13.2%, according to IDC's Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker. However, the U.S. market slipped to a meager 3.5% year-over-year growth rate as the general economic malaise currently affecting the U.S. economy has begun to impact the local PC market as well. The other international markets more than compensated for the U.S., with the EMEA and Asia/Pacific regions coming in more than 2 points above forecast due to continued strength in developing countries. As with previous quarters, much of the growth came from the notebook markets, and in particular the consumer notebook segment in retail environments.

Regional Outlook

The United States market showed symptoms of the economic slowdown, although growth remained positive at 3.5% for the quarter. Consumers and businesses showed some degree of belt tightening – a situation IDC expects to continue into the next quarter.

The EMEA market maintained solid double-digit growth in 1Q08, driven by continued notebook strength across the region. Demand for portable PCs remained strong in Western Europe as declining price points continued to assist SMB renewals and multi-PC per household purchases in the consumer market. The competitive environment also intensified in the CEMA region, where vendors are driving increasing volumes and accelerating portable adoption in CEE and MEA.

The Japan market continued its trend of modest 1-2% growth. The consumer market was negatively impacted by an inventory backlog in retail stores that had been created by early shipments of spring replacement models last quarter. However, this was offset by a healthy commercial market replacement cycle.

Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) experienced better than expected growth for the quarter. China's total market slipped sequentially in accordance with seasonal trends (Lunar New Year slowdown), but the pain was eased substantially by a very strong consumer notebook market. Indonesia was another standout as vendors found ways to address the customs clearance issue that has plagued that market for many previous quarters.

Vendor Highlights

HP shipment growth rates outpaced the overall market, but were the lowest among the top 5 vendors this quarter at 17.4%. In the U.S., PC shipments were just barely above flat for the quarter as the company began to face renewed competition from Dell.

Dell enjoyed its strongest quarter in almost two years, as the impact of its new retail presence and its growing strength in the portable market propelled the company to a 21.6% improvement in year-over-year shipments. Dell enjoyed strong portable growth in all major regions except Canada.

Acer's worldwide growth continued to outpace the market, but the combined entity suffered a 20% drop in U.S. shipments for the quarter when compared to the Gateway consumer and total Acer shipments from the same period last year. Most of the decline was due to a weakening in Gateway-branded products.

Lenovo saw its shipments improve 21% for the quarter, driven by its dominant presence in the rapidly growing Asia/Pacific region. The company also experienced stronger than expected growth in EMEA portables, but a bit slower than expected growth in the U.S.

Toshiba continued to enjoy the overall transition to notebooks as the company saw its worldwide shipments top 3 million, a 20.6% improvement versus last year. The EMEA and A/P regions, in particular, featured stronger than expected growth as both consumers and businesses in those regions continued to allocate more of their purchase dollars to notebooks.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Banks Set the Customer Satisfaction Standard for Online Financial Services

Customer satisfaction with online banking far surpasses other online financial services like credit cards and investment, according to a new study conducted by ForeSee Results and According to the Online Financial Services Study, which employs the methodology of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), online banking scores 82 on ACSI’s 100-point scale. Credit card websites and investment websites both score 75.

In banking, the online channel (up 12% from 2003) significantly outperforms overall retail banking in terms of customer satisfaction, which scored 78 when measured by ACSI in 2007. This is the first year the study surveyed credit card and investment website customers.

Credit cards struggle to move beyond commodity status, and the low score for credit card websites indicates that credit card companies are not maximizing the value of the online channel to overall business operations. Credit card companies do not tend to have strong relationships with their customers, but the study suggests that investments in improving website performance and the site experience would improve loyalty.

For investment websites, customers are more likely to use the online channel than any other channel, so it is imperative that the website meet customer needs. Highly satisfied customers are 37% more likely to increase online transactions and 51% more likely to purchase more services than dissatisfied customers, which clearly demonstrates the value of online customer satisfaction.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Gartner Identifies Seven Grand Challenges Facing IT

Many of the emerging technologies that will be entering the market in 2033 are already known in some form in 2008, according to Gartner, Inc. Many of the innovations that will unfold during the next 25 years can be found today in research papers, patents, or are in a prototype in production.

These long-term innovations, taking place in five to 20 years, go beyond the range of the typical IT project portfolio planning cycle. These innovations are classified as “IT Grand Challenges”. Gartner defines an IT Grand Challenge as a fundamental issue to be overcome within the field of IT whose resolutions will have broad and extremely beneficial economic, scientific or societal effects on all aspects of our lives. Gartner has identified seven IT Grand Challenges. They include:

Never having to manually recharge devices: Today, the ubiquity of portable computing and communications devices powered by battery means that many people would find it highly desirable to either have their batteries charged remotely or their devices powered by a remote source, bypassing the use of batteries altogether. However, any commercial application of wireless powering still seems a long way off.

Parallel Programming: The challenge with parallel computing is to create applications that fully exploit a “multi-core” architecture by dividing a problem into smaller individual problems addressed by individual processors. To overcome this, key issues will need to be addressed, including effectively breaking up processes into specific sub-processes, determining which tasks can be handled simultaneously by multiple processes, scheduling tasks to be processed simultaneously and designing the architecture of the parallel processing environment.

Non Tactile, Natural Computing Interface: The idea of interacting with computers without any mechanical interface has long been a desirable goal in computing. Some of the many challenges that remain in this area include the ability to detect gestures, developing a gesture dictionary and the need for real-time processing. Another set of challenges relate to natural language processing, which include speech synthesis, speech recognition, natural language understanding, natural language generation, machine translation and translating one natural language into another.

Automated Speech Translation: Once the many hurdles of natural language processing are overcome to yield human-to-computer communications in one language, the complexity extends further when translation and output is required to a target language that is understandable to a human. Some rudimentary systems have already been created to accomplish basic speech translation, such as one-way and two-way translations.

Persistent and Reliable Long-Term Storage: Current technologies are hard-pressed to perfectly preserve Dr. Francine Berman’s 2006 estimate of 161 Exabytes (x10 to the 18th power) of digital information on digital media for more than 20 years. The barriers to long-term archiving (in excess of 100 years) that must be overcome include format, hardware, software, metadata, information retrieval, just to mention a few.

Increase Programmer Productivity 100-fold: As business and society's demand for software development increases, and the apparent decline of students pursuing software engineering and computer science degrees intensifies, removing uncertainty from meeting future demands will have to be met by increasing the output, or productivity, per programmer. While the exploration and development of tools to enhance productivity continues to capture attention, it would appear that effectively and efficiently exploiting reusable code is one of the most encouraging rays of hope to yield more output per programmer.

Identifying the Financial Consequences of IT Investing: One of the most perplexing challenges faced by IT leaders has been to convey the business value of IT in terms readily understandable by business executives. Unlike financial accounting measurements which are standard across public companies, the particular management accounting metrics could be different for each company. This Grand Challenge would be considered conquered when a request for an IT project was argued with the following certainty: "If you invest in our IT proposal, you will see an additional $0.03 earnings per share directly attributable to this project by the third quarter of next year."

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Green IT hits the CIO radar

A new report by independent market analyst Datamonitor, “2008 Trends to Watch: Green IT”, predicts a surge in CIO interest and vendor initiatives in the Green IT space. It reveals that tighter regulatory measures and advances in technology are feeding renewed interest in Green IT. In an independent survey conducted by Datamonitor, over 75% of respondent firms considered eco-friendly computing as an important element in their IT strategy while a further 15% rated it as their top IT priority.

IT organizations today face the dual challenge of shrinking budgets and sprawling infrastructure footprints. In addition, regulations around data privacy and electronic waste disposal are getting tighter by the year. It is against this backdrop that a majority of enterprises are beginning to realize the full potential of eco-friendly computing practices – significant cost savings, increased flexibility in managing IT resources, and compliance with environmental regulations.

Virtualization technologies have come to be regarded as being synonymous with green – offering both significant cost savings and reductions in enterprise carbon footprints. Server and storage virtualization technologies have matured over the last two to three years, to the extent that one in three companies with a Green IT strategy in place already makes use of these technologies.

Enterprises are embracing a lifecycle approach to retirement and disposal of IT hardware assets, leading to significant benefits in terms of cost savings and mitigated legal risks. Hardware refreshes are planned based on energy efficiency and components are disposed of in a safe manner - over two thirds of enterprises have a formal program in place to recycle their IT assets.

IT vendors are forging the path ahead for Green IT adoption, with all major players announcing corporate initiatives in eco-friendly computing. As a result, innovations across the design, manufacturing and service realms are beginning to impact the user world in a big way. Light Emitting Diode (LED) and Solid State Disk (SSD) technologies are already hitting the mainstream, and so is the Software-as-a-Service mode of application delivery, which exploits shared infrastructure.
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Sunday, April 6, 2008

North American and European Executives Say Business Strategy Depends Largely on Innovation

Business strategy is driven largely by innovation, but corporate responsibility for the innovation process is highly fragmented, according to findings of a survey published by Accenture.

The survey of 601 senior executives in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Canada found that innovation is a top corporate priority, but it also indicates that more senior-level accountability, greater CEO involvement and improved speed-to-market execution can help companies deliver on their promise of innovation and boost their competitiveness.

While nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents said that their organization’s business strategy is either totally or largely dependent on innovation, only 21 percent of respondents said their companies have a chief innovation executive, and even fewer — 11 percent — said there is a C-suite executive in charge of the process. Nearly half (48 percent) of respondents said that multiple executives are responsible for innovation in their companies.

The survey also found that companies that are successful with innovation are likely to have a chief innovation executive. Specifically, 40 percent of respondents who said their company's level of innovation is much stronger than that of their competitors also said that the person primarily in charge of innovation is a chief innovation executive.

The findings indicate that the challenge of innovation for organizations is not commitment and intent but rather execution against the innovation vision. While 59 percent of executives said that the level of support their CEO gives to innovation is greater than the level of support of CEOs at their closest industry competitors, a majority (57 percent) of respondents also said that their organization’s speed of innovation was slower than that of industry peers, and about the same number (55 percent) said that their frequency of innovation was less than that of their industry peers.

Respondents are concerned not only about their ability to generate new ideas, but also with their ability to consistently transform innovation into action. Only 15 percent of respondents said they are very satisfied with their company’s ability to convert ideas into service offerings, and only 13 percent said they can do it repeatedly. High on the list of innovation challenges cited by respondents are transforming ideas into marketable goods and services, cited by 29 percent of respondents, and creating a proper execution strategy, cited by 26 percent of respondents.

Respondents were asked how they would rate innovation in various regions, regardless of whether their organization has operations there or not. While respondents regard North America as the most innovative region – selected as “highly innovative” by 50 percent of respondents - they also consider Asia to be more innovative than Europe. Specifically, more than one-third (38 percent) of all respondents said that Asia is highly innovative, compared with just 22 percent who said that Western Europe is highly innovative. Interestingly, respondents in the United Kingdom and Germany share this view: Only 21 percent of UK respondents said that Western Europe was highly innovative, compared with 39 percent of UK respondents who said the same about the Asia Pacific region. Similarly, only 23 percent of German respondents said Western Europe was highly innovative, while 34 percent of them said Asia Pacific was highly innovative.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

IT Budget Growth Remains Broadly Stable, but One in Five CIOs Experience IT Budget Cuts

Despite economic concerns, global enterprise IT budget growth remains unchanged at 3.3 percent in 2008, according to a worldwide survey of 1,011 CIOs conducted in the first quarter of 2008 by Gartner, Inc.

While 62 percent of CIOs reported no change in their 2008 IT budgets, 23 percent indicated a decline in their budgets, and 15 percent of respondents reported an increase in their budgets. Of those respondents reporting a decline in budget, the decrease averaged at 10 percent in their committed 2008 budget. For those respondents that reported an increase in their budget, they said the increase was approximately 15 percent.

U.S. IT budget growth rates are softening. Overall U.S. IT budgets for 2008 are expected to grow, but the growth rate has slowed from 3.1 percent to an increase of 2.3 percent. One in four U.S. CIOs indicate that their IT budgets were reduced in the first quarter, 65 percent were unchanged and 10 percent reported budget increases in the first quarter.

CIOs reported budget changes that are in keeping with a general belt-tightening program rather than a restructuring of the IT budget or spending levels. Almost two-thirds, 72 percent of those reported a decline of 10 percent or less.

Geographically, IT budgets continue to exhibit growth with budget growth increasing in Europe (+3.86 percent) and Asia/Pacific (+5.98 percent). The strength of European and Asian CIOs in their economies is reflected anecdotally in their response to this study. On several occasions, CIOs in these geographies commented that they saw the current belt tightening as a U.S. only phenomenon indicating a level of independence from conditions in the U.S.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Standard Customer Satisfaction Surveys Don’t Make the Grade in Improving Service Levels

Customer surveys are everywhere -- at the store, on the phone, the Web -- and still customer service horror stories flourish. With all the solicitation for customers’ opinions, companies should wonder why there isn’t an increase in customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

According to a new white paper by Impact Achievement Group, “Asking the Right Questions: How to Get ROI on Customer Surveys,” the data gathering is not contributing to a better understanding of customers. In part, there are fundamental flaws in common attempts to measure customer satisfaction.

Surveying the wrong customers:
Companies should consider how many customers have the time or are bored enough to provide time-consuming answers for the survey company. Forget random sampling--companies need to survey their best customers, not those with an axe to grind. Notably, it is more common to survey the wrong customer in the business-to-business market (decision makers versus users).

No actionable feedback:
Frontline employees are adverse to long surveys—they’re not paid enough nor have the time. For employees to improve customers’ experience they need to survey frequent customers—who spend enough money—to elicit appropriate solutions from management.

A disguised marketing initiative:
Many customer satisfaction surveys are nothing more than an attempt to gain data to help better market and advertise products and services. Years of this practice discourages customers from participating even in legitimate surveys, further limiting survey reliability.

Scores don’t equal improved economics:
Research has consistently shown an unpredictable link between satisfaction scores and profitability/growth. For example, detailed analysis of surveyed customers has shown that between 60 and 80 percent of customers who’ve turned to another supplier have rated themselves as “satisfied” or “very satisfied.”

One-size-fits-all solutions can’t meet a company’s unique needs:
Cookie-cutter surveys produces crummy data, yielding an “average” insight to customers’ attitudes. Instead, companies need custom, local research that addresses the unique customer relationship and internal business practices. Simple, anecdotal feedback is of more use to management—not to mention those on the front line.

Surveys focus on transactions—not relationships:
Customers focus on the overall experience – not individual transactions. Evaluating the quality of the relationship includes every detail of the customer’s experience combined with the emotional and branding ties the customer has. Specific, transaction-oriented questions don’t address customers’ overall company experience.

Dissatisfaction as a result of the survey itself:
Intrusive, lengthy and ambiguous surveys are frustrating. When company decision makers forget this and use outside survey companies, they avoid direct customer dissatisfaction with the survey process. Worse, they entrust responsibility for customer information to people with very little—if any—interest in representing the company’s brand positively. Lousy survey data, ignored by management, further add to customer dissatisfaction.

Manipulation destroys credibility:
Tying performance marks or dollars to the scores can encourage manipulation among employees. When punished or rewarded for goals they can’t control or influence, employees instead focus on “gaming” the reward or eliminating the punishment.

“Asking the Right Questions: How to Get ROI on Customer Surveys,” can be downloaded by clicking here.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Spending on Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance Will Exceed $32B in 2008

AMR Research announced that companies will spend more than $32B on governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) in 2008 -- an increase of 7.4% over 2007. Spending on Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance is expected to grow only 2% to $6.2B.

For the first time since AMR Research began conducting this study in 2003, executives have shifted their GRC budget focus to operational and enterprise risk management -- making SOX and other regulatory compliance programs a necessary “to-do,” but not a top-of-mind initiative. 31% of companies reported that better managing and mitigating risk in the business is the most influential issue driving their GRC investment in 2008.

For the last few years, GRC services numbers have been decreasing as companies streamlined compliance activities, but as risk rises in importance, companies report they want and need guidance on how to frame the risk discussion in a business context. Thus, GRC initiatives remain an intensely human effort. Two-thirds of budgets (approximately $21.5B) are earmarked for people-related expenses (services plus head count) in 2008.

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