Many chief information officers arecurrently guiding cost-cutting measures and asking IT departments todo more with less. But carefully planned ITinvestments can create innovative ways tosave money and advance organizations,even in difficult times.
So what should stay, and what should go?
“It’s analogous to each of us as homeowners,” says William Brichta, vice president forTechnology and CIO of Delaware ValleyCollege. “We’ll put off some of the renovations that might make the place look nice,but certainly we’ll attend to anything cruciallike the roof or water heater, as that pain cannot wait.”
Smart Business recently spoke withBrichta to learn more about how CIOs areselecting, prioritizing and advancing the bestinvestments during IT belt-tightening.
What kinds of IT initiatives are beingreduced, and what kinds are surviving giventhe declining economy?
What we’re finding in academia at themoment is that most institutions are investing in essential technology upgrades only.Economic uncertainty for the next semesteror more is driving an extremely cautiousapproach. Ironically, this is occurring at atime when students are arriving with evengreater expectations of the same technologythey enjoy at home — bandwidth, iPods,wireless access, etc. — to be easily transferred to the campus, so there is a balancingact. A technology upgrade that ensuresgreater campus safety or improves the student life experience in a dramatic way willmove forward; those that are nice to havebut not necessarily essential will not. Also,any server upgrades that enable greatersecurity for the network are likely to stillgain funding.
What is the criterion for deciding what staysand goes?
First, it is important to understand that alltechnology has an expected and generallyknown life cycle. As a technology component matures, you certainly do not want tocontinue to invest in anything that will bereplaced shortly. Beyond that proactive planning, you weigh what tangible customer benefits are realized with a specific technologydecision. In our case, students form the basisof why we exist on a college campus, and thewhole academic experience that technologymust support is critical. So, even in leantimes, we may expand wireless accessacross campus, or a PC lab may be upgradedbecause we know there is a high ROI inherent in the daily use for students. Servers, software and expansion of existing services maynot all go forward if some of these upgradescan reasonably be postponed in the shortterm. What cannot happen is that a server, forexample, be relied upon beyond a normalreplacement timeline.
Can maintaining investments in IT actuallylead to long-term cost savings?
Yes. One of the most underrated areas is therelationship with key IT vendors and a thorough knowledge of what contract commitments and end points exist. All executed contracts with vendors should be charted androutinely renegotiated prior to end dates.Vendors will work collaboratively with agood customer to uncover savings and maintain a relationship rather than lose the service. Often they may be willing to reduce costto ensure a continuation of existing revenue,and there can be a large dollar figure involvedwhen all IT assets and service commitmentsare counted up. There is more clout there forthe CIO than most realize. Additionally, periodic upgrades on existing equipment willgenerally reduce service calls and component failure. It pays to take care of the smallsteps prior to realizing you now have a majorproblem.
How can the CIO still align IT initiatives withthe business priorities, with the goal ofreducing expenses?
We don’t implement the latest technologysimply because it would be nice to have, butrather because it solves an existing businessproblem or adds such overwhelming valuethat it satisfies a key objective. This might besummed up as ‘First, do no harm.’ Youshould ask, ‘Do we really need this at thistime, even if we can afford it with the existing budget?’ Second, work collaborativelyand educate the chief financial officer andthe president on why it is important for aspecific IT initiative to move forward or tobe reduced. They generally will recognizewhen a new technology can have real impact, but they may need a basic nonacronymexplanation that delivers the salient points— a simple ‘here’s what it does, here’s whatwe will gain’ discussion. Last, ensure thateveryone who works in the IT organizationunderstands he or she is in the business ofmaximizing results using technology, andalso involve the employees’ ideas. It shouldnot be surprising that often those closest tothe work have the best solutions.
What can IT employees do to help ensuretheir company remains viable?
Whether in education or industry, all of usprovide service for customers. How you treatcustomers when they ask a technology-related question reflects on the entire organization. We are all here to serve, and when youstart each interaction with that approach, itusually results in a great outcome.
WILLIAM BRICHTA is vice president for Technology and CIO of Delaware Valley College. He can be reached at (215) 489-2486 orWilliam.Brichta@delval.edu.