A year ago, IDC found that cost reduction was the numero uno IT priority in Europe. Today, cost reduction is third in the list of IT priorities, behind improving IT service levels and quality and enhancing IT security, according to a recent IDC survey.

This shows that IT is no longer a far-removed corporate function and that it is now becoming a provider of strategic services to internal customers. Serving these ‘customers’ right, it seems, is now the most important topic for CIOs in Europe. It also shows that European CIOs are shifting from survival mode to a more forward-looking and proactive stance.

Though the survey shows there are clear signs of market recovery, IDC believes the recovery will be gradual and drawn out. Of the different software areas, infrastructure software continues to show the brightest growth prospects in Europe in 2010. Overall, security software leads by a significant margin, followed by storage, server virtualisation, database, and systems management software.

The survey also shows that there are general spending improvements for all comparable software areas compared with a similar survey from February 2009. Content management, collaborative applications, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications in particular have significantly improved indications of spending growth.

In enterprise applications, the survey shows that demand from large enterprises in Europe is returning in 2010. By looking at growth trends by company size, large organisations with more than 2500 employees have moved from poor growth in the 2009 survey to being largely on a par with midmarket organisations—a significant improvement. Enterprises with fewer than 500 employees, meanwhile, show relatively little improvement in spending growth.

Some of the countries and industries most affected by the economic crisis are showing the strongest signs of recovery. Manufacturing and financial services showed significant improvements in spending growth from 2009 and 2010. Enterprise application spending in France and Italy improved significantly in 2010 compared with 2009. Interestingly, leading spending growth categories in the 2009 survey, including the Nordics and the public sector, show limited improvement or even declines in spending growth for 2010.

These findings are based on an IDC survey of 733 IT decision makers or decision participants, which was carried out in Europe in February 2010.