That's how one of my client meetings started at last week's IT Forum in Las Vegas. Now, normally this would concern me. It could be a sign that jobs are scarce, unemployment is up, or that Infrastructure & Operations professionals are being let go. But that's certainly not the case. This was actually someone proactively seeking a new job. His company — a large US manufacturing firm — was merging with another firm and he felt it was time to move on.

This led to the first of three interesting observations at last week's Forum. Here are my top three I&O takeaways in no particular order:

  • I&O executives are seeking new skills. To continue the story above, this young gentleman — we'll call him Joe — had just completed a large desktop virtualization deployment for his company. He knew the coming merger with another manufacturing company would force his employer to downsize. His exact question was: "Do you know of anyone seeking skills in desktop virtualization? If not, do you know what I should put on my resume to make myself more visible on job boards?" We then had a great conversation on how to market I&O skills and I assured him that in 2010 desktop virtualization is certainly a soughtafter technology expertise. What I wasn't expecting was that one hour later I would bump into another client that asked me "do you know anyone with experience deploying large desktop virtualization environment?" I'm not making this up. It was fun to connect the two and I'll report back to see if Joe was a good fit. These were not the only conversations I had with I&O execs on jobs, skills, and finding new talent. Clearly companies are investing for growth and in a people-oriented department like I&O, that means new jobs.
  • IT cost management is moving from art to science. We know cost containment and even cost cutting are still top-of-mind for any IT exec. And it's certainly a big part of the Forum, which focused on the migration to Business Technology. What surprised me, though, was that people weren't asking how to contain costs, but how to measure them. Increasing levels of virtualization maturity and now the push to adopt cloud computing are completely disrupting standard cost methodologies. A lot of I&O execs were curious to know what tools and processes are available to build more rigorous cost models. Sure, some questions were basic like "how much does it really cost to provision a desktop?" or "what are the fully loaded I&O costs associated with SAP?" But increasingly I heard questions like "what are the before and after costs if I were to implement a converged blade server, storage, and network product in my datacenter?" and "what are my costs for internally supported email vs. going with a cloud provider?" This has always been a hot topic for CIOs, but in the post-recession era it's clearly a mandate for I&O execs on the BT transition path.
  • Walk then run: I&O needs to master shared services before it can embrace the cloud. As you'd expect, most attendees had cloud fever. James Staten had a great cloud keynote on Day 2, where he painted the five-year journey to cloud. So what do you do in the meantime? Build shared services infrastructure. Frequently asked questions were "how do I get started with a real services catalog based on shared infrastructure?" and "what does the org structure and support model look like once we've build out shared services?" This is a good sign. Technology is always the easy part for I&O. It's facing the underlying people and process aspects that indicate it's a sustained trend. I suspect this trend will accelerate as I&O moves beyond business-as-usual IT operations to a more reliable, predictable services organization. I got unanimous agreement that mastering shared services is the critical stage before attempting internal or public cloud services.

All said and done, it was a great three days in Vegas. It's always helpful to get clients' input as we firm up the content agenda for the back half of the year. But now it's your turn. Were these your top takeaways from IT Forum? Are these the kinds of trends you'd like us to research in I&O's 2H'10 content plan?