2009 has been a difficult year on many levels for both individuals and businesses.  From a personal point of view I am glad that it is almost over.  My business could actually finish the year with higher revenues than in 2008 but making that happen has involved much hard work and some good fortune.  Continuing interest in our Business Intelligence offerings has saved the year for us.  At the same time we saw how extremely difficult it now is for those of you trying to obtain funding for worthwhile projects.

IT departments everywhere spent 2009 playing defense – fighting budget cuts, being forced to lay off good people, and working to keep important projects alive.  Fortunately, we get the sense that the worst appears to be over and that a degree of normalcy may be starting to return.

In the 1990’s IT investments were one of the main drivers of productivity gains.  The fear of having software blow up when Y2K arrived was one trigger for that investment.  Major innovations in PC technology, processors and storage, and the emergence of the Internet as a business tool were huge factors as well.  For some reason, the past decade has seen very few dramatic IT innovations.  I don’t count the emergence of Twitter, Facebook or do-everything cell phones as game changing ways to improve business productivity.

The vendors that our community cares most about (Oracle, Microsoft, IBM) have mostly spent the past decade buying up other IT vendors.  It is hard to think of an important innovation that came out of the R&D efforts of any of them, especially in 2009.  They all have remained nicely profitable this year largely through tight control of costs.  None of them has done anything memorable recently in terms of exciting new offerings or thought leadership.

Microsoft had the most big announcements of the major vendors in 2009 led by the introduction of Windows 7 and the Bing website.  Neither seemed to generate all that much excitement among the people that I talk to.  Windows 7 seems to mostly fix the mess that Vista turned out to be and Bing struck me as a nice but largely futile attempt to attack Google.

IBM made the biggest play for thought leadership with its expensive “smarter planet” series of ads.  They were polished and professional as usual, but did not seem to offer much that users of JDE software could put to practical use.  Other than encouraging a greater sense of optimism about the future impact of IT, IBM delivered relatively little this year in terms of innovative new offerings we could actually use.

Among the major vendors, Oracle has done the most in the past 10 years to re-invent itself.  Its transformation was accomplished almost entirely by acquiring and sewing other businesses together.  Oracle appears to be better at selecting and integrating acquisition targets than its major competitors, but it is a shame that so far not much has resulted that has broad appeal to our community.

For years Oracle has been promising us something truly new in the form of Fusion Applications, but its arrival has been postponed until sometime in 2010.  It also became clear at OpenWorld that whatever innovation arrives with Fusion Applications will not likely be available to our community in a form we can use for some time to come.

While Santa appears to have mostly left coal under the tree for us in 2009, I cannot help but feel that things will be better in 2010.  A number of you have told me that funding for new projects for 2010 has survived the budget review process so far.  Interest remains strong in technologies that have the potential for fast payback, including my personal favorite BI.

I am sure some of you can point to exciting new offerings that just have not come to mind for me.  Such thoughts are welcome as are comments on the attitude toward IT investment within your business.