There were a lot of reasons for Gartner researchers to give a gloomy economic outlook at its Symposium/ITxpo conference here, especially after the latest round of quarterly reports from Intel, IBM and others. But the picture painted by Peter Sondergaard, Gartner's head of research, was upbeat in a surprising way.
Gartner isn't revising its global IT growth forecast significantly, which remains down from the initial expectations for this year. But Garter's relatively flat revenue forecast isn't being carried over to jobs, at least in one sector of IT: big data.
Big data, which refers to data collected and analysed from every imaginable source, is becoming an engine of job creation as businesses discover ways to turn data into revenue, says Gartner. By 2015, it is expected to create 4.4 million IT jobs globally, of which 1.9 million will be in the US.
Applying an economic multiplier to those jobs, Gartner expects that each big data IT job added to the economy will create employment for three more people outside the tech industry in the US, adding six million jobs to the economy. That's the kind of estimate that presidential candidates, if they focused on IT's impact on the economy instead of fossil fuel fracking and pipelines, might jump on.
But Sondergaard's estimate included a caveat - namely, that there's a shortage of skilled workers. Only a third of the big data jobs will be filled.
"There is not enough talent in the industry," said Sondergaard. "[Education] is failing us."
Griff Law, the CTO of Northeast Georgia Health System, said it is difficult to fill data analytics jobs, and IT jobs in general.
"From a healthcare perspective, I can certainly see the demand," said Law, noting that his company has had 15 open positions for the last six months.
About six of those jobs involve data analytics, whether as business analysts who can use BI and big data analytics tools or clinical analysts, who, in addition to IT skills, are helped by data skills. The company also has openings requiring other types of IT skills, including network engineers.
This push by businesses to make money from their digitising efforts will lead to new types of jobs in the next few years, specifically, chief digital officers. By 2015, Gartner predicts that 25 percent of organisations will have a chief digital officer.
Overall, Gartner expects IT spending to rise to $3.7 trillion worldwide next year, a 3.8 percent increase overthis year. But that growth projection has been a moving target, especially with major vendors facing an uncertain economy.
The clearest indication of how that uncertainty weighs on companies came not from the IT sector, but from McDonald's Corp. CEO, Don Thompson. "When the economic crisis began in 2008, few people thought the environment would still be as uncertain and fragile as it is today," said Thompson, according to a transcript of his remarks on Seeking Alpha. "It is clear however that this operating environment is the new normal," he said.
If people aren't buying $1 fries, will their appetite for electronics suffer as well?
IBM cited an overall slowdown in consumer spending in its most recent earnings report. In the third quarter, IBM generated $24.7 billion in revenue, down 5 percent from the same quarter in 2011.
Meanwhile, Intel reported a $2.97 billion profit in its latest quarter, compared to $3.47 billion in the same quarter last year. Intel CEO Paul Otellini blamed the economy.
AMD also noted economic concerns last week when it said it was laying off 1,800 of its 11,813 employees. "The PC industry is going through a period of very significant change that is impacting both the ecosystem and AMD," CEO Rory Read said in a statement.
Still, Gartner says consumer demand for tech devices continues to rise. In 1980, consumers spent less than 1 percent of their discretionary budget on technology; now it's about 3.5 percent.