Delegates were in gloomy mood at this year's IT Director's Forum, with few believing that IT budgets will increase any time soon.
And with no budget growth, companies were concentrating on managing better, rather than bigger.
In an informal survey at the start of the three-day event, less than five per cent of conference delegates expected spending to rise in the coming year, and less than half foresaw increases in 2004.
From the opening keynote by Gerry 'Spud' Gallop, former head of the US Navy's Top Gun flight school, to the growing number of conference tracks devoted to skills development, the emphasis was on developing current assets.
"Companies need to examine what they are doing and improve that, rather than just going for growth," said Mark 'Llama' Dahl, Gallop's former co-pilot and a partner at management consultants TopGun Communications.
"Your best managers are not usually your biggest earners; in fact they are most likely not to be. You need to take the best managers, train and motivate them well and then deploy them in your organisation to train others."
Cutting costs through efficient use of new technology, and getting the most out of present investments, was also a key focus at the conference.
Home working, mobile communications and computing sessions were all well attended. So too were security round tables and a session on managing IT to meet the requirements of new legislation and regulatory demands.
"Most of the law on IT privacy is untried in the courts," said Mark Smith, a solicitor with Morgan Cole.
"There's a mix of UK and European law to take into account when deciding on monitoring employees and compliance with encryption laws.
"Companies need to have plans in place to deal with legal problems and be aware of rights and responsibilities."
Just under half of the seminars dealt with corporate leadership, in areas such as assessing costs and return on investment or shaping management styles to suit different audiences.
Adjusting organisations to cope with reduced size, and building partnerships, also generated interest.
"There's been some good ideas expressed," said Iain Andrew, IT director at Britannia Airways.
"Fundamentally this thing is about meeting people and getting business done and it has been quite productive."
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