A survey of UK IT departments has revealed that most remain upbeat about the delivery of their IT projects, despite the economic downturn and budgetary constraints.

The Cisco commissioned survey of 500 enterprise IT departments in the UK and Ireland took place in early October, just weeks after the downturn began to bite in mid September. Despite this, it found that 68 percent of organisations were confident, or very confident, of meeting their IT objectives in 2009.

That is not to say that the downturn has not had an impact however. 42 percent of businesses state that the economic downturn has already had a high, or very high, impact on IT strategy in the past six months. Yet three quarters of this group remain confident of achieving their IT goals.

"We contacted 400 respondents in the UK and 100 in Ireland," said Billy Hamilton-Stent, a director at Loudhouse Research, the independent agency that carried out the research for Cisco's IT Reality Gap Survey 2008. "What was interesting was that the 68 percent of respondents who remain confident about their IT objectives, actually increased to 84 percent in cutting edge or innovative IT departments. The more innovative the department, the higher the confidence of the company."

Hamilton-Stent classified cutting edge or innovative departments as those closely aligned to business needs, and which have formal IT objectives in place relating to business performance. Only 44 percent of businesses with a cautious approach to innovation expressed the same level of confidence.

And in a sign that IT is rapidly becoming one of the key elements of a business going forward, more than half (56 per cent) of IT departments said they are now formally aligning their IT objectives with organisational goals. This increases to 62 per cent in the technology sector and 79 percent in the finance sector. "44 percent said they didn't have formal objectives, and of that 44 percent, 29 percent said they had informal objectives," Hamilton-Stent told Techworld.

But looking forward, IT departments still expect operational challenges in next 12 months. 55 percent believe budgets will have a significant impact on achieving IT goals, with 52 percent concerned about resources pressures, and 45 percent citing skills as having potentially high / very high impact on IT performance. 40 percent felt timelines were too aggressive.

"While there are some exceptions, the compelling message is just how confident and business-aligned the UK's IT departments are," said Wendy Mars, head of Cisco's Technical Operations in UK & Ireland. "Whilst IT is certainly not insulated from the prevailing economic climate, it is clear that there is an appetite from UK plc to continue to drive innovation, as long as measurable objectives can be set."

But as this survey was carried out just as the downturn really began to hurt, wouldn't a more recent study show a great degree of pessimism as the full implications of the downturn filter though? Not really, according to Hamilton-Stent.

"When we did the survey, we analysed the data for responses that didn't seem right," he said. "We asked what are the causes of those strange responses. Was the IT department isolated in a bubble, had the IT department not felt the pain yet, or are they simply deluded? Or are they just confident."

"While some of this confidence could just be brashness, the results lead us to believe the level of confidence was genuine, especially as we asked the departments about the impacts from the economic downturn," said Hamilton-Stent. "The innovative group (the most confident), are much more likely to experience change or performance differences because of the downturn. They are in the hot seat, but their confidence is still there."