Cloud Computing

IT in an age of austerity

While it’s not been that long since computers were still viewed as ‘luxuries’ and IT budgets were among the first casualties of belt-tightening measures, computer systems are now at the core of most organisations, an inextricable foundation of all business communications, operational processes and data management.

Nevertheless, the high level of dependency on computer systems shouldn’t make IT spending sacrosanct, and in an era of restricted funding and budgets, we still need to carefully assess and rethink all aspects of IT expenditure and investment in order to make best use of available resources.

Here are a few strategies for managing your IT budget in the new ‘age of austerity’.

Start with thorough auditing

Before making any decisions, it’s always best to gather as much information about your current computer systems setup and needs as possible. To do this, make sure you take up the offer of any audits included in your current IT support contract. If your current service contract doesn’t allow for a review, it may well be worth a few hours’ investment of support time to get one carried out.

In addition, many IT support companies will offer an initial audit free of charge if they sense an opportunity to win your business. Take advantage of this opportunity to get a fresh perspective on your systems: the more information and different ideas you are able to gather, the better it will be when it comes to selecting cost-saving solutions for the future.

Key areas to focus on in any review include:

  • whether your current IT expenditure is being directed towards short-term expediency or longer term benefits;
  • whether your IT systems and plans are fully aligned with organisational strategy;
  • whether purchasing is being driven by price alone or an assessment of total cost of ownership (TCO); and
  • whether new technologies have emerged that can help achieve organisational goals as well as save money.

Switch to the cloud and software as a service

In planning and developing their IT infrastructure, most third sector organisations are still reflexing today in terms of having a local network built around an onsite server. The procurement, installation and maintenance of onsite servers are far and away the biggest computer expense for these organisations, so it’s not surprising that one of the main ways of saving money on IT costs these days is to eliminate the local server and migrate to ‘cloud services’, hosted software as a service applications.

Instead of installing and maintaining an Exchange server for your organisation’s mail and groupware needs, consider switching to a hosted service like Google Apps, which offers all the same email and collaboration functionality but at a fraction of the cost and with increased flexibility, including better compatibility with mobile devices and the needs of remote workers.

Project management and constituent or customer resource management (CRM) systems are also ideal candidates for switching online and there are a variety of options available, including several specifically tailored to third sector organisations.

Even file storage, the core knowledge base of your organisation, can be securely hosted online, not only saving money but also simplifying backups, remote document access and collaborative working with partner organisations.

Does everyone need a PC?

The ‘standard model’ for IT deployment not only envisages a central onsite network server, but also issues every employee with their own PC or laptop. But consider how the average work week unfolds and how much time is actually spent by each person at a desk-based computer generating new documents, and you soon realise that most people these days are far more mobile, reading emails and documents out of the office, in meetings or otherwise on the go.

Some organisations have recognised that it makes more sense to deploy a smaller number of shared use workspaces with PCs for the ‘heavy lifting’ of content creation while equipping most staff with mobile or tablet devices like iPads for communication and content consumption. Such a flexible arrangement can also save money on office costs as it frees people up to work remotely and on the move, and no longer requires allocating expensive office space for every member of staff.

Using IT investment to lower overall costs

In reviewing your organisation’s budget, consider that there may be an argument for actually increasing IT spending in some areas to make overall savings.

An example of this could be investing in a new IP-based phone system that integrates into your network, simplifying communications workflow and reporting. Or using the opportunity afforded by investing in a new hosted CRM system to do a comprehensive review of all business processes and streamlining them for increased quality and efficiency.

Another way of ‘spending to save’ involves building capacity and lowering dependency on external support, such as investing in a modern content-managed website that allows your staff to update it themselves, as well as tying in with new social networking and other communications tools that could save your organisation money on print and other traditional marketing communications methods.

Whatever your strategy and IT needs, the key thing is not to view the changes imposed by the economic climate as a threat, but rather as an opportunity for reviewing existing systems and using new technologies to further your overall strategy as well as wisely managing limited budgets.