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Your IT budget: Look to the future when cutting costs

Laurie M. Orlov | June 8, 2008
The last time the economy soured, CIOs responded as if the sky were falling. This time, you need to plan ahead to preserve your organization's ability to grow again when needed.

1. Protect hard-to-fill roles. Architects, database administrators, relationship managers, security specialists and business analysts: It took you a long time to find them-and even longer for them to understand your tech environment, business constituents and enterprise strategies. How much time has it taken them to identify those investments your company sorely needs but no business leader or steering committee has thought to request? These folks know what's needed next year and beyond, though their value isn't always obvious to the CFO.

Make the case for keeping them around by clarifying what will happen if you don't retain their skills in-house. Without that architect, future M&A synergies may take forever to crystallize. Without a really senior person acting as a demand manager, helping business units prioritize projects, those business units may get from IT just what they asked for-but not what they need. If the IT budget is a top target for cuts, maybe, as a last resort, you can shift business analysts and demand managers (though probably not the architects) to more flexible business budgets.

2. Bring on the interns. Interns are inexpensive. And one way or the other, young people represent the future of your business, your IT organization and the IT industry. Even if they don't join your company full-time, interns who work for you will end up referring new employees, customers, vendors and service providers.

To tap into the supply of interns, cultivate a relationship with business and technical faculty at your local college. Each semester, bring one of their top students on board to learn your business, soliciting their observations and ideas. You may find talent you can't do without (if you don't, you should help the faculty shape a program that does deliver what your business demands). Keep in touch with your interns, and when they graduate, help them find jobs in your firm or with a peer at another company.

Meanwhile, take advantage of this year's crop of graduates. As the economy softens, they're finding it tough to line up jobs. Persuade your boss to let you hire a few of the brightest before they give up and enroll in business school. It's better for them to gain a few years of work experience from your organization as context for an MBA-and better for you to be able to cultivate a future with them so they return to you after they get that graduate degree.

3. Solicit ideas from your staff and peers. Your staff knows what's really going on in the nether reaches of the firm: which organizations struggle under laborious processes, which business units are hugging their tiny data centers to their chests, or how teleconferences could replace costly (and often miserable) travel. Collect the ideas using an online tool, such as a wiki or discussion forum, so you can save, share and respond to their ideas.


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