Reaching Deeper for Savings

You may be able to squeeze more out of your IT budget than you realize.

But the same high-speed connections that help BlueStar work closely with its Peruvian unit can also help firms with excess capacity get more out of it by sharing or bartering with others. “People whose companies are stuck with fixed capacity are just starting to think about this,” says Rubin.

Kossuth of Olin College has been doing more than just thinking about it: she has had numerous discussions with administrative officers at nearby Wellesley College and Babson College about ways to share their existing IT resources without exchanging cash. Since fall 2008, Kossuth and executives from the other two schools have discussed a range of options, including the possibility of extending the fiber-optic connection that currently links the Olin and Babson campuses to Wellesley so that the three schools could potentially share storage and other systems. “The key is that nothing is off the table if it’s worth talking about,” Kossuth says.

Rethinking Self-Help

Although IT departments have been automating an ever-increasing percentage of technical administration in recent years, there are still plenty of opportunities to further reduce or eliminate manually intensive IT activities, the “What’s-my-password-again?” requests that can suck up so much of an IT staffer’s time.

In 2008, Constellation Energy’s IT organization renewed enforcement of its policy that allows engineers and other employees to use its self-service password software tool to reset their own system passwords and unlock their user accounts as needed. Prior to the new policy enforcement, only 15% of the company’s password resets and account lockouts were handled through the self-service tool; the remainder queued up at the company’s IT help desk, says CTO Jeff Johnson.

But that all changed with the new password-reset policy. By March, 2,040 password-reset/account-unlock “tickets” were handled through the self-service process, representing about 84% of such requests, says Johnson.

Since it costs Constellation Energy $20 for its IT help desk to handle each ticket, the self-service software (from Courion Corp.) helped the company avoid approximately $41,000 in costs in March alone, or $490,000 on an annualized basis, says Johnson.

Cross-Training

Because small-to-midsize companies typically have limited financial and personnel resources and can rarely afford to hire technicians who have expertise in just a single domain, many are now cross-training their IT workers in a variety of technical disciplines.

The concept is also beginning to catch on with larger enterprises. For instance, Rockford Health System, which operates a hospital and several health-care clinics in northern Illinois, is required under HIPAA regulations to randomly audit e-mail and electronically generated communication. When the IT staffer who normally handles that went on leave, CIO Dennis L’Heureux opted to train an existing late-shift computer operator to do the job while monitoring overall systems, rather than hire a replacement.

Cross-training doesn’t have to cost much: many companies use job-shadowing as a key part of such efforts, and vendors are becoming increasingly willing to provide free training (see related advice, below). Employees in general and IT staffers in particular are eager to acquire new skills, and the economy may prompt employees to view cross-training as a way to stay current, and needed, versus simply being asked to do more work for the same pay.

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