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Six Tips for Stretching IT Budgets in 2009

By Pam Baker

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CIOs are facing budgets so tight this year that many are simply unrealistic. Still, the show must go on. Universally, the charge is to “get the most value out of current technology offerings, without sacrificing the latest innovations,” said Stephen Yeo, worldwide strategic marketing director at IGEL. To this end, here are six tips to stretch your IT budget and still make headway in these challenging times.

Repurpose software you already own: “Across industries, customers found they could easily extend their existing software to handle other business functions, without the hassle of buying, implementing and managing new software,” explains Michele McFadden, director of Product Management at Numara Software.

In fact, repurposing has become “recession chic” and a bit of a bragging point as IT managers race to stretch their imaginations in inventive ways. Quite often one good idea leads to another. “For instance, we have clients who originally bought our Numara FootPrints software to streamline their IT service operations and manage incidents, service requests and change requests throughout their lifecycle from initial contact to resolution,” said McFadden. “Then, a number of our customers started thinking of ways to use that software in other departments, such as deploying it in the HR department to monitor employee requests and new hires, or in the facilities department to track repairs and office equipment requests.”

McFadden said repurposing efforts of the software grew from there. Customers are using Numara FootPrints for external customer service in their call centers, bug tracking in their development group, and for compliance tracking across the organization and enrollment tracking at universities. The Colorado Department of Corrections is even using it to track prison transfers. “And that’s just one sample of the creative ways our customers solve their business problems with a single tool,” she said. “It’s straightforward and it’s what we think of as, ‘thinking outside the software’s box.’”

Manage IT operations more efficiently: "As IT professionals, we’re constantly focused on how we can help make the business more efficient and productive, leaving little time to assess our internal processes and staff productivity,” said Carol Fawcett, VP of Information Services at Quest Software. “Now IT is being asked to do more with flat or, in some cases, declining budgets, forcing us to rethink where and why we’re spending our dollars and time.” Fawcett advises every CIO to do three things:

Automate repetitive tasks, such as user provisioning, which follows a path from new hire to department/management changes to termination. This is the least costly way to increase productivity, yet has the highest impact on IT.

Quest suggests implementing tools that automate the provisioning, re-provisioning and de-provisioning of users, to reduce administrative time while also improving security around access by former employees.

Reuse old hardware: The present state of the economy and credit crunch is causing organizations to pause and assess their current IT investments. While reusing old hardware immediately comes to mind, often it’s hard to push old technology further. Vendors see the need and some are offering innovative ways to help reuse old hardware. IGEL Technology, for example, offers a unique way to extend the life of legacy PCs. IGEL’s $160 PC to thin client conversion card allows organizations to instantly convert their old PCs into modern thin clients that provide access to any server-based application or virtual desktop with the look and feel of a traditional PC.

“The appeal of thin clients over PCs, especially from a cost perspective, is pretty straightforward; they’re greener, easier to manage and more secure,” said Yeo. “However, not many organizations at this point in time have the funds to allocate towards new hardware or software subscriptions.”

Yeo said studies show that thin clients can pay themselves back within their six year life-cycle on energy savings alone, and this can be reduced to four years or less if the existing PC environment has to be air-conditioned. The PC to thin client conversion card includes IGEL’s Universal Management Suite. This allows companies to not only sweat their old PC assets while moving towards a modern, server-based, infrastructure, it also removes the need to buy desktop Internet security and management software, saving probably $50 per year on software costs, Yeo estimates.

“If organizations can then legally move their old Windows XP licenses off the old PCs and migrate them to virtual machines on the server, they can enjoy a very modern infrastructure at an extremely small cost in hard economic times," said Yeo.

 

Get "more for less" with managed services: Managed services can help IT departments get 'more for less' by allowing internal IT staff to focus on their company's unique strategic business initiatives and eliminating the need to invest in new technologies. "CIOs and their staffs can't do it all, especially when globalization is a top priority,” said Bill Dodds, VP of Sales and Marketing at Virtela. “Trying to coordinate contracts with multiple vendors, in multiple languages and multiple currencies to build a best in class infrastructure puts an enormous strain on IT that's not sustainable in a recession.”

Analysts at firms like IDC and Gartner are predicting that demand for managed services will increase in the recession, and Dodds said Virtela has seen that growth firsthand. “For example, when it comes to communications infrastructure, companies need multiple technologies, seamlessly integrated around the globe, but they can't afford to spread themselves thin,” he explains. “Managed network service providers can give businesses a single source for the technologies and expertise they require even as their needs evolve, in an on demand, scalable site-by-site basis.”

Virtela suggests companies leverage managed service providers (MSP) for their telecom and networking services. By investing in MSPs, IT departments can still benefit from new and innovative technologies without spending money on hardware, infrastructure or internal management and monitoring, allowing them to keep pace with technological innovation even on a tight budget.

Automate enterprise-wide processes: “Many people don’t realize that 50% of all application processes are still run as batch jobs,” said Ken Jackson, president of the Americas division at UC4 Software “This means that IT is spending a lot of time and money kicking off, monitoring, and handling failures of routine jobs.”

By automating batch processing with workload automation solutions, CIOs will save staff time and improve services by speeding up processes and reducing application downtime due to human errors and conflicting jobs. For example, Jackson cites a large energy provider that used UC4’s workload automation solution to reduce their total invoice processing time by four hours. As a result of being able to send customer invoices a full day earlier, they received the payments faster, and saved almost $30,000 in one year alone, he said.

“IT can't afford to slow down. A workload automation solution will not just enable IT to survive current budget and staff cuts, but actually improve their services and alignment to the business in spite of them,” said Jackson.

Leverage your existing reports for BI: "In today’s economic crisis, one of the fastest ways to save resources and make smarter business decisions is to leverage your existing reports for BI,” said John Kitchen, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Datawatch Corp.

Datawatch recommends taking an inventory of your existing resources—such as reports and other business documents—to see if the information you need to make better business decisions is actually hidden in plain sight. “Many IT professionals mistakenly believe that they have to implement complex and costly BI tools, when in reality they can easily get the business intelligence they’re seeking from existing reports,” said Kitchen. “In a nutshell, we’re helping companies weather the recession by addressing the immediate need for BI at a fraction of the time, cost and complexity of traditional BI solutions."