5 Ways to Cut Costs Without Cutting Services

When an IT manager gets the order to “do more with less,” a shiver runs down the spine. IT managers know that this usually translates into doing less with less and finding ways to hide that fact. Compounding the problem is IT has been in cost-cutting, efficiency-boosting mode for several years now.

Haven’t we squeezed every last ounce of efficiency out of IT? When I started researching this story, that’s the questions I wanted to answer.

I posted a request for sources on the website Help A Reporter Out, and I wasn’t expecting much. I figured I’d get the usual suspects, virtualization, SaaS and outsourcing, and little else.

Was I in for a surprise. Sure, I received plenty of emails about virtualization and SaaS. However, the 100+ responses suggested plenty of other cost-cutting strategies; everything from replacing dark fiber with wireless to actually cutting back on service levels, especially if those services, such as 24/7 help-desk availability, aren’t mission critical.

Culled from input from 100+ IT pros, here are five ways to trim IT costs without cutting services. A few ideas are along the lines of what you’ve heard before, such as data-center automation, but even in these categories, we’ve learned of some tricks that you may not have thought of.

1. Embrace Automation

It’s no secret that virtualization is one of the bright spots in this recession. According to a recent survey by Robert Half Technology, 40% of CIOs plan to invest in virtualization this year. Data center automation in general (be it automated application discovery or consolidated event management or change and configuration management) is also holding up strong, mainly because it too promises to cut costs by eliminating cumbersome manual tasks and boosting efficiency.

Automation isn’t limited to the data center, though. VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) can drastically reduce the cost of managing employee desktops, and some organizations are taking a closer look at a range of “manual tasks” and finding plenty of room for automation throughout the enterprise.

A case in point is the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). OTDA is responsible for most types of assistance that New York citizens can receive, from food stamps to heating assistance to housing to disability benefits. Until a year ago, anyone applying for assistance had to visit an OTDA office in-person, where an agent would fill out paperwork and enroll them in the program. Making a cumbersome process even more arduous, various offices handled various types of assistance, meaning that person would have to go to one office for food stamps another for heating assistance and still another for disability services.

Clearly, this wasn’t a cost-effective way to provide these services. In May 2008, OTDA launched the Web portal MyBenefits, allowing citizens to apply for a range of assistance online. Even with the website in place, though, service costs were still high. Each help desk call cost the state about $25. With approximately 62,500 people accessing the site each month, and about 10% of those calling for help, usually because of a service interruption, costs for the help desk alone were more than $150,000 per month.

Using monitoring tools from Precise and Symantec, OTDA was able to pinpoint problems and trim these costs. “We were able to identify a number of application and system errors that could have led to a surge in help desk calls,” said Daniel Chan, CIO of OTDA. “With better monitoring and benchmarks, we’re now able to find and fix problems before outages occur.”

2. Open Source

Okay, switching to open source is a pretty obvious cost saver. However, many organizations worry that whatever they save in reduced licensing costs will simply be shifted to training and support.

“A few of our clients plan to switch from enterprise systems to open source, perhaps just for a year or two, as a way to ride out the recession,” said Barbara Gomolski, an analyst with Gartner. She noted that those make the switch tend to be mid-sized companies. “It’s not Fortune 500 companies doing this.”