Use IT to Trim 2010 Budgets

As companies work to tighten their budgets for 2010, information technology often seems to be a difficult cost to get under control. I read a recent Gartner Inc. report that said worldwide IT spending is estimated to reach $3.2 trillion this year alone.
Security updates, hardware repairs and the overall health of the IT network are critical to the successful operations of a business. For some companies, even just one hour of a system’s downtime can result in thousands of dollars in lost productivity. So how do you trim your IT costs without exposing your network to risk?

Keep Up
One of the most important ways companies can protect their systems is installing security updates as they arrive.
Many average corporate computer users tend to ignore the yellow update shields on their taskbars, not realizing the frequency in which those patches arrive. Installing these security measures is free, and it could protect your network from bugs and viruses.

Invest in Your Security
While there are many ways to save money, companies should continue to invest in their IT systems to ensure they’re operating in their full, secure capacities. Back up your data to facilitate the recovery of critical information. Maintain your equipment to ensure you have the memory and technical capabilities to do business efficiently. Install passwords on all computers and wireless routers to protect your network from outside threats.
In addition, it is still imperative for those in charge of IT systems to be up to speed on the latest in the industry, even in an economic downturn. Failure to understand these issues could result in mistakes. And mistakes lead to downtime, decreased productivity and potentially the loss of critical data.

Tread Lightly
Before overhauling your IT system with the latest and greatest, slow down. Top tier products are often pricier than those a step or two below, and prices are known for dropping significantly as soon as the next product is released.
Also, weigh the costs and opportunities of the newest software before making that purchase. What are the licensing fees? Will you need new equipment to support it? What will it cost to install the product, and are you willing to invest in administrative overhead to provide training? Trim costs by taking advantage of on-site and remote training rather than spending money on expensive, out-of-state conferences.

Implement Controls
Inconsistent technology decisions can lead to wasteful spending in any company, but it becomes increasingly critical for small- to medium-sized businesses. According to IBM research, software and hardware are the greatest opportunities for savings in an IT budget. These costs can often be controlled simply by having a designated person in charge of overseeing and approving compatible, standardized purchases.
You can also lower your network’s risk by implementing policies for acceptable computer use. One employee downloading a virus could cost your company significant resources in downtime and repairs.

Let Go
In small- to medium-sized businesses, I often see two scenarios: One employee has taken on the responsibility of IT, regardless of his or her industry knowledge, or the company is using an ad-hoc approach to deal with issues. While there are certainly ways for companies to control costs on their own, business owners should also consider areas where they can save money by letting go of the areas where they lack experience.
According to an IDC study, companies spend an average of 32 percent more when handling their IT services in-house. They often underestimate the expenses associated in doing so, including hardware, software, staffing, infrastructure and the sheer cost of taking an employee away from another skill set to manage IT.

Travis Short is president of Tulsa-based Bluewater Managed Services and co-owner of SpringPoint Technologies.

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