2012 is set to be a year in which new opportunities start to rise for IT professionals, even though budgets are tight, according to the predictions of industry participants.
But they also warned that control over technology budgets will start seeping away from IT departments.
The news comes as experts predict a strong take-up of cloud computing, and bring-your-own devices at work. The money available will continue to be strained, but the ambition for new projects is understood to be slowly returning.
The observers also pointed out that it will be a year when small businesses get a grip on virtualisation, and the demand for IT security professionals is significantly heightened.
Analyst house Gartner warned of concerns that control over system approval was beginning to seep away substantially from the tech department.
"By 2015, 35 percent of corporate IT expenditures for most organisations will be managed outside the IT department's budget," it said.
"Next generation digital enterprises are being driven by a new wave of business managers and individual employees who no longer need technology to be contextualised for them by an IT department." These people would also drive more social computing to contact customers, analysts said.
The growth of cloud computing was allowing departmental heads an easier route to self-deployment of systems.
Cloud computing "applies pressure to IT economics", with the low setup costs and quick deployment, Forrester said. It defined this as the "next phase of IT industrialisation".
IT industry association Intellect said the government's continued move to cloud computing, with the G-Cloud, was good news. It added that there was also "a commitment to developing a more diverse tech market", as part of the cloud initiative, and said it was watching developments closely.
But it warned that the right broadband infrastructure was vital to cloud computing's take-up, as well as the vendors being able to successfully promote a "culture change" within organisations to tackle the "nervousness" around putting key data in the cloud.
Workers are increasingly dumping desktop PCs for laptops, tablets and mobile phones, according to the experts. By 2016, over half of workers will have abandoned their desktop computers, Gartner predicts.
"The pace of change...will be breathtaking," it said. "By 2015, mobile application development projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1."
Networking vendor Cisco, in a study of IT decision makers in the UK, found that IT budgets would continue to suffer, though the ambition for projects was beginning to return.
"2012 will be a year of tech 'trade-offs' and compromise," it said. "IT leaders will be forced to balance innovation aspirations with harsh business reality." It warned that 'keeping the lights on' will eat up most of people's budgets.
Nevertheless, Cisco said IT leaders were upbeat. "In particular they see cloud, mobile device support and remote access as key priorities."
License management firm Flexera said it was seeing an upturn in interest in its products as the financial crisis remained. "Chief information officers will continue to need to be creative about finding hidden pools of waste to trim their budgets and at the same time fund strategic projects," it said.
"With most of the obvious sources of waste long since scoured, the murky, complex and seemingly indecipherable world of software licenses will provide a new opportunity for cost cutting and project funding."
Modelling software firm Real Status, based in Cambridge, said businesses would look to simplify applications. Its research had found that "only about 10 percent of application features are being used in any meaningful way" in most businesses, it said.
Service management will also be a focus for improvement, according to vendor ICCM, with businesses looking for more flexibility. "In recent years we have already seen significant changes in IT service management; its position within a business now reaches far beyond the focus of the IT department," it said.
The need to effectively process big data would, however, drive spending in many large organisations, analysts said. Forrester predicted that business intelligence will become much more "agile, pervasive and limitless" and executives would push for "better, faster insights".
Vendor Netuitive said the key development in analytics would be "how maths-based, IT analytics are starting to enable advanced correlation of real-time data across silos and domains, and from multiple data types - for example application data from APM tools such as CA Wily, IT infrastructure data, and business metrics".
Banks were already using "this type of visibility", it said, allowing administrators "to detect anomalies, drill down to root cause and troubleshoot proactively before they cascade into service degradation and IT outages".
Observers said the data deluge would remain a struggle, in spite of valiant efforts by IT. "In the period to 2015, more than 85 percent of [the largest] organisations will fail to effectively exploit big data for competitive advantage," Gartner said.
Among smaller businesses, vendor Acronis said it was noting a significant increase in interest in its virtualisation technology. "We believe that in 2012 small to medium sized companies will stop talking about virtualisation and actually start to virtualise their IT infrastructure," it said.
But it warned that as virtualisation becomes more common practice, "some key questions surface: who owns the virtual data and therefore, who is responsible for backup & recovery. As the use of virtual servers for business-critical applications grows, data protection will also become a big issue."
In spite of the tough job market, security skills will be in high demand as cloud computing takes off and end users increasingly use their own tablets and phones to handle corporate data.
BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, said that while skills demands were constantly shifting, it expects "information security to continue to be a key skill and management issue - information is one of the most valuable assets organisations own and being able to protect it is vital".
"Deep technical skills will continue to be in demand," it said, but "IT professionals with hybrid skills, those who can combine a high level of technical skills and so called 'soft' skills in roughly equal proportions, will be the most sought after in the future, as they will be able to help their organisation differentiate themselves from their competitors."
Employment website the IT Job Board said that among those with advanced IT knowledge looking for permanent roles, "SQL will be the core skill" next year, with a notable growth in demand in recent months.
The highest demand for contract skills would be in finance roles, and in London, it said.
The highest paid permanent salary, as the new year arrives, is for a Senior Applications Designer - a role that can earn £200,000. Among contractors, the best day rates are across a range of skills, with people earning up to £1,126 for a day's work. But it pointed out that this was the absolute maximum it had seen.
Testing firm SQS Group noted the "meteoric rise" of Agile methodology this year, and said this raised a new skills demand.
"Technology houses will be looking to have not just development staff, but testing, project management and business analysts trained in the Agile methodology."