Mark GibbsDoing more with what you have


Let me start off by stating the obvious: The going is tough in the IT world – budgets are being pared down, staff is being let go, and business is stagnant or worse. But, might I be so bold as to suggest that this shake-up is long overdue?

The problem is that it has been too easy for too long. Just think of the wild abandon of IT a short while ago. If you were a dot-commie or your company was making any kind of push for e-commerce, it was pretty much carte blanche on IT expenditures. You needed a T-1 line? Here, have a T-3. Another Web server farm? No problem. A few more terabytes of storage? Buy four. Spend, spend, spend.

And now the grim realities of an economic downturn (or, dare I utter the dreaded word, “recession”) has changed everything. Forget the 10 per cent budget increase, how about a 10 per cent decrease?

The response of many CIOs and IT execs to these cutbacks has been dismay or even outrage: “How can we be expected to maintain, let alone enhance, our IT infrastructure without money?” they cry.

Ladies and gentlemen, might I suggest that many of you have enough of everything already. You need to figure out exactly what you already have and make sure you are using it wisely. This is not doing more with less, it is doing more with what you have.

If you look around your company I bet you’ll find boatloads of useful hardware and software that is just lying there gathering dust. But that idle gear is nothing compared with the stuff still in circulation that you’ve lost track of.

So do a thorough survey. Once you’ve got a handle on what you actually have, analyze how and where it is being used. For example, why does that guy in admin have a 750-MHz PC with 500MB of RAM? All he’s doing is word processing. Find him a slower machine that will do the job and re-purpose his machine for that guy in engineering who needs a PC with some real horsepower. Voila! You just saved a couple of thousand bucks.

And then there’s disk storage. I bet you have users whining over not having enough storage. Try this: Survey what they have and how they use it, and look at how much storage is tied up with files that haven’t been accessed for 30, 60 and 90 days. Then ask the users if they need these files. If they do, burn ’em onto CDs; if they don’t, well…

I would put good hard cash down on you having at least double the amount of storage you think you’re short of currently wasted on old files that users claim they need.

Storage for corporate databases is a more thorny issue. But this is also an opportunity to rethink how you conduct business. What is the value of your data and who owns that value? If you have a lot of data that has to be online for, say, legal or safety reasons despite the fact that no one’s looked at it since the Last Supper, then you have a corporate-level issue.

But if there aren’t legal or safety concerns, you can apply the same approach we discussed for the user storage problem. “Wait just a second!” cries the head of customer service, “We can’t just delete that data, we might need it, and we can’t ask a customer to go on hold for an hour while it’s recovered from tape!”

The answer to this angst is simple: We don’t have the money Mr. CS, do you? You don’t? Then let’s talk about our business processes. IT will help you define what can be done with what we’ve got BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE.

Finally, even if you are one of the lucky people whose budget isn’t being negatively affected, this is a great opportunity to take a leadership role and become a corporate hero (“No, we don’t need a budget increase, thank you very much, we are just frugal and wise with our resources. But we wouldn’t mind, say, a bonus or even a salary increase…”)

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (US). He is at