16 ways IT can do less with less

Put the days of doing more with less behind you by cutting back on the overhead of IT

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"Do I expect Citigroup or Starbucks to throw away their enterprise infrastructure and move into the cloud over the next two or three years? Probably not," Schwan adds. "But I do think large organizations will start making investments in the cloud via their test environments."

11. Cover your SaaS
As with cloud computing, using software as a service to replace enterprise apps can help you reduce your fixed costs, giving you more flexibility when budgets are squeezed.

But SaaS is usually a better call for smaller organizations that haven't already made significant infrastructure investments in apps like those being delivered by SaaS providers, says Apptio's Gupta.

"If you're looking at a new category of app where you don't already have the people or the expertise, why would you want to build an internal organization with a fixed cost structure when you can keep it variable?" he asks. "It's much easier to scale down using SaaS."

But some SaaS applications -- such as CRM and sales force automation -- are more mature than others, notes Schwan. He advises IT managers start with SaaS apps that integrate well with what the organization is already using so that they can get comfortable with the environment.

12. Slash your development cycles
Rapid software development methodologies such as agile can get you faster results with less cost and effort, says Ryan Martens, CTO of Rally Software, an agile lifecycle management provider.

"By adopting agile software development approaches, companies have increased their collaboration and productivity, sped up their time to market, and better aligned with their overall business needs when compared with traditional waterfall projects," he says.

Agile eschews milestones and long-term planning for daily huddles with business stakeholders, focusing on producing a shippable product each month, if not sooner. A survey commissioned by Rally Software and conducted by QSM Associates found that teams using agile practices delivered software to market 37 percent faster with the same level of defects as more traditional development methods.

But rapid development has its drawbacks, particularly in heavily regulated industries, notes Technisource's Baschab. Whether to go agile depends on the risks involved and the compliance required.

"Agile works better for some companies than others," he notes. "You need to make sure you fulfill all your compliance requirements first. I wouldn't want NASA or a financial services company using it."

13. Curb your e-mail addiction
Wring more productivity out of your staff by weaning them off e-mail. According to Osterman Research, the average office worker spends 847 hours a year -- or over 40 percent of a typical work year -- just managing e-mail.

The problem isn't merely that employees spend too much time using e-mail; it's that they use it for the wrong tasks, says Krishen Kota, president of AdminiTrack.com, which provides an online-based issue- and defect-tracking application.

"They have involved group discussions over e-mail, then try to track tasks via e-mail instead of using a centralized system," says Kota. "The result is a chain of increasingly muddled and unproductive e-mail exchanges -- what I call 'multidimensional ping-pong.' It's like a flock of ping-pong balls launched by numerous players bouncing off multiple surfaces at warp speed. Let the misunderstandings fly!"

A better idea, he says, is to use face-to-face meetings or conference calls to better manage everyone's time: "You can't always avoid unproductive communications, but putting some thought into the method of communication before you communicate can noticeably increase your productivity."

14. Reward employees with vendor freebies
If you haven't already gone back to key vendors and negotiated better deals, now's certainly the time. Even if your vendors are maxed out, they may still have things they can offer you that don't cost them anything -- like extra training, invitations to events, or even spare consulting services, says Technisource's Baschab.

"If your vendor is already providing a training session for 10 people, it probably won't cost them much to add an 11th person," he says. "They may be sponsoring an event or convention and have extra passes they can share with you. You can pass these things onto your employees, who'll appreciate that you're still willing to invest in them even in tough times."

Meanwhile, your consulting firm may have experts sitting on the bench, working on internal projects while they wait for an assignment, he adds. Ask if you can tap into their expertise now, and make up for it later when you're more flush.

15. Give your staff a virtual raise
If your firm isn't raising salaries this year, look for ways to trim what it costs employee to get to work every day. "Reducing employees' transactional costs has the effect of giving them a virtual raise," notes Baschab.

For example, casual dress days can cut down on employee dry cleaning bills, while each day telecommuting is one fewer day spent paying for gasoline and toll charges driving to work. Apps such as Cisco's TelePresence Meeting Solutions or even Skype 4.0 and a Web cam can bring work-at-home employees "into the room" when you need some face time, adds Baschab.

Besides making the planet a little greener, more telecommuting can also enhance productivity, adds DataMotion's Patti Dock.

"American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year," Dock notes, citing statistics from Planet Green. "Businesses need to get ahead of the curve and implement efficient technologies that empower their employees to work remotely, securely, and more cost effectively."

16. Buy bagels
IT staff is used to having bosses take them out to lunch or being sent to annual meetings, but thanks to budget cuts a lot of companies aren't doing that anymore. So IT mangers need to find simple ways to reward employees for their hard work in difficult times, says Baschab.

"I brought in bagels for some of my people the other day," he says. "It cost me $20. It's a cost-effective way to boost morale, and the staff really appreciated it."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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