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IT departments are finding themselves strapped for cash these days as IT budgets are slimmed down in the tough economy. ComputerWorld Canada caught up with several IT pros who found low investment ways to
make a dent in IT’s bottom line. Here are their stories:

Outsourcing e-mail and faxing

IT manager Greville Bowles estimates it would have cost at least $10,000 to setup a new in-house Exchange Server with all the latest software and upgrades to manage e-mail and faxing.

A year ago, the Fergus, Ont.-based industrial safety products manufacturer Ralston CanSafe was faced with continuing to purchase new hardware and software to maintain its in-house server or outsource it to a third party. The decision to outsource has saved the company overhead and maintenance dollars.

“We’re too small a company to justify having an in-house server,” said Bowles, who is the sole member of the IT department.

Bowles removed the fax appliance from the network and introduced employees to a fax-to-e-mail service that automatically routes faxes to the intended recipient.
He said the decision to outsource was only done after the company became adequately comfortable that such a service would be secure, ensuring that the provider had garnered a well-established reputation in this area.
Now more confident with outsourcing, Bowles said Ralston CanSafe will consider outsourcing larger software packages like customer relationship management software once the equipment and licences are up for refresh. “I know we can save money doing that,” said Bowles.
Going multifunctional
IT manager Wayne Bonaguro used to face the cost and management of multiple individual printers and faxes, until he started replacing them with multifunction machines. “Our customers were still very much old school, they weren’t e-mailing, they were sending their inquiries in by faxes,” said Bonaguro.
Employees at Calgary-based manufacturer of comfort cushioning Carpenter Canada Ltd. now have desktop faxing which saves on paying for monthly phone lines, device toner, maintenance, and paper. It’s been about a year since transitioning to the new devices and already, Bonaguro said the savings have paid for the multifunction devices.
But the savings haven’t just been monetary, it has also had a positive impact on worker efficiency across what is a 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility. “Some of the smaller satellite locations in the branch are quite a way away from the traditional fax machines that they had. So now they all do it from their desktop,” said Bonaguro.

Eventually Carpenter Canada will replace the last of its individual devices with multifunction machines, said Bonaguro.


Automating processes

Twice a year, Toronto-based Hospital for Sick Children welcomes a large number of new doctors and nurses as part of its teaching program. Four hundred new staff start on the same day.

“Think of the problems of trying to proactively manage this,” said Daniela Crivianu-Gaita, vice-president & chief information officer. “We must have a mechanism to have accounts for all those new people.”
The provisioning process for new entrants identifies job roles, the applications they have access to, and the security level attached to those applications. But that used to be a cumbersome and manual process, often plagued by misplaced paper forms that IT staff relied on to complete the provisioning process, said Crivianu-Gaita.
Three years ago, the Hospital for Sick Children took advantage of the skills of its in-house IT staff to create a process of online forms so accounts for system use and training could be easily created and activated.
The benefit was primarily cost avoidance, said Crivianu-Gaita. “We were at the point where we were really thinking ‘Oh my god, we need to hire 20 more people to handle these accounts.’”
That’s not all. The hospital also deployed a relatively affordable imaging software that captures full images of IT systems for maintenance purposes, a move that has eliminated a lot of planned system downtime. Before this, there was no holistic approach, only manual documentation and re-install of components that was subject to human error, said Crivianu-Gaita. “It was all over the map,” she said.

The IT department has reaped a significant savings of time, particularly for keeping critical applications up and running that are required for patient care, “because it’s quite possible that the information is absolutely critical to have at the fingertips of the clinician but is not available or those five, 10 minutes,” said Crivianu-Gaita.


Synchronization through Wi-Fi

Setting up Wi-Fi zones at each of the police stations in the City of Gatineau, Que., has meant that regular system updates to police car terminals can be done automatically and relatively more affordably. 

The city’s IT director, Andre Scantland, said investigation reports are completed and fed by police officers through their car terminals, but a large fleet of vehicles requires quite a bit of maintenance in terms of system updates and new mapping functionalities.
Seventeen major updates were done in 2008. “When you have 70 car terminals, it takes some time,” said Scantland.
The cars only have to be within 500 feet of the Wi-Fi zone, whereupon the terminals search for updates and then synchronization occurs. Previously, each vehicle had to be driven onsite, where a couple of technicians would spend half an hour on each car, often encountering difficulties due to differing software versions.

Scantland estimates the City of Gatineau saved 500 hours in 2009.


Open source and vendor talks

Winnipeg-based Canadian and U.S. customs brokerage services provider GHY International Inc. relies on open source technologies and the knowledgeable community that surrounds it to keep IT costs down. Vice-president of IT Nigel Fortlage said 67 per cent of the company’s server environment, whether core or peripheral, is open source, saving the company IT dollars it would otherwise have spent on licensing fees.

But he cautions this has not been an overnight success for GHY International. “This has been a journey for us. It has taken over a decade to get here,” said Fortlage. Given that open source doesn’t come with a how-to manual, Fortlage said time must be invested in research and development by sourcing the community of very willing open source experts. “They have a great pride in creating a product that stands the test of time and a review by peers,” said Fortlage. “There really are out to show how good they are and are always out to put their best foot forward.”
Despite the time he’s had to invest in the R&D side of open source deployment, Fortlage said open source has no doubt been a very cost effective route for the company.
GHY International has also cut costs through vendor negotiation. Fortlage recalls two episodes when vendors threatened price hikes. On one occasion, showing the vendor off-target sales figures as a result of low volumes did the trick. “They totally reversed the increase. There was no increase,” recalled Fortlage. On another occasion, both parties agreed the price hike be applied to only one part of the business but not another.

“The reality is that an agreement is an agreement to do business with each other as long as we remain competitive,” said Fortlage.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau 


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