Author: Yogi Schulz

Summary: Addressing these IT opportunities will control costs and add value to your business

All indications are that 2009 will be a challenging year for many businesses. Falling consumer demand is likely to erode revenue while increasing pricing pressure. Turmoil in the credit markets is likely to create difficulty in raising debt or equity at a reasonable cost. There are indicators that the inflation rate is likely to rise.

With this challenging outlook, it may be tempting to simply ask IT to share the burden through an arbitrary budget cut. Such a simplistic approach will most likely undermine staff productivity and customer service precisely at the moment when the business needs to move in the opposite direction.

What are the IT opportunities, that don’t require significant investment, which management can pursue to control costs and steer the business through this challenging year?

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Reduce IT operating cost

Outsourcing the operation of your IT infrastructure can reduce your IT operating costs. The parts that are most likely to produce cost reductions are Wide Area Network operation and desktop support.

Most businesses accumulate many draft documents and copies of databases that they will never use a second time. Unfortunately, these files hang around forever consuming disk space. Reduce cost of your storage by showing each manager what his or her group is consuming to reduce storage usage.

End-users generate significant IT support costs to answer many small questions they should be able to answer for themselves. Create a web page that will reset the password for an end-user’s network account. Improve end-user application knowledge through online education modules, a tips and tricks page and through lunch & learn sessions.

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Consider Software as a Service (SaaS)

Some businesses see operating a computing infrastructure and its associated application portfolio as a distraction from their mission. SaaS offers a way to use a supplier’s remote computing infrastructure and its associated application portfolio for a flat per month, per seat fee.

SaaS reduces IT investment by shifting IT costs from fixed to variable. SaaS also makes it easy to scale up or down on 30 days notice.

Consider SaaS for new applications or when one of your in-house applications requires a major software upgrade or a replacement of its underlying computing infrastructure.

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Expand virtualization

Virtualization consolidates applications running on many physical servers onto a smaller number of larger servers to reduce IT capital and operating cost. Virtualization achieves these goals by improving utilization of your computing infrastructure investment.

Cloud computing is a similar concept in which businesses share a supplier’s remote computing infrastructure instead operating of their own. Like SaaS, cloud computing shifts IT costs from fixed to variable.

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Reduce cycle times and cost with collaboration

Product development and problem resolution typically require the interaction of your staff from multiple disciplines. Improve staff collaboration to reduce your cycle times, to improve customer service and to reduce the cost of doing business. Products likeSharePoint,Windows Meeting Space andOffice Communicator enable effective collaboration.

Collaboration also produces added benefits for your business by reducing travel costs and by avoiding the productivity loss associated with travel.

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Green IT for cost not altruism

The cheapest way to cut your IT electrical power consumption is to make sure that every desktop and laptop has its power management features enabled. It’s useful also to turn them all off for weekends and perhaps overnight. Power management is easily configurable for Vista at Start > Control Panel > Power Options.

When you enable more power management, you will reduce your air conditioning volume, cutting your IT electrical power consumption further. Reducing your data center growth rate will also contain your IT costs for space and electrical power consumption.

These actions reduce IT costs and build green credibility for your business.

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Enhance the value of existing IT investments

Use more of your currently licensed software functionality. Typical Word users do not leverage features like tables, mail merge, table of contents, hyperlinks, running headers and footers. Typical Excel users do not leverage features like multiple worksheets, links, formulas and formatting. Typical Outlook users do not leverage features like tasks, rules and links instead of attachments. You’ve licensed all these features that produce productivity benefits. Build awareness of the features and benefits within your business.

Collaboration and ERP software typically integrate with Microsoft Office to add value to your existing investment in Microsoft Office.

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Yogi Schulz is a Calgary, Alberta-based contributing writer to the Microsoft Midsize Business Center. His work has appeared in Computing Canada, EDGE, The Calgary Herald and Microsoft Ideas. He typically consults with CIO’s in the energy, government and real estate industries.

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