Despite bad news piling up for businesses worldwide, only 7% of IT professionals are losing sleep at night, according to a recent survey conducted by U.K. service management company Sunrise Software, Inc. While some smaller projects might be getting the knife in IT departments, companies’ calls to increase efficiency have given them the opportunity to lead the way toward working, as the mantra goes, “smarter, not harder,” according to the survey.
In the wake of the International Monetary Fund’s Oct. 8, 2008, announcement that the worldwide economy would enter a major slowdown for the first time in 60 years, Sunrise asked 175 IT professionals (mostly in the U.K.) to gauge the industry’s general outlook. Respondents from companies in the private and public sectors answered questions in the March 2009 survey about how budget crunches affected daily operations, how they planned to weather the storm, and what their attitudes were in light of increasing financial uncertainty.
According to survey results, IT managers are generally upbeat, although their optimism is hardly blind. A full 39% of respondents said they were “resolutely optimistic,” another 20% said they were not letting themselves be affected by negative financial prognostications, and 34% said they were taking the increased pressure in stride.
That’s not to say that IT departments are immune to corporate downsizing. Only 11% of survey takers had not seen their departments affected; 47% reported slashing budgets, and 31% had seen staff members fall victim to layoffs. A lucky few (8.5%) said that their budgets had actually been the recipients of increased investment this year.
As companies look to cut costs across the board, they are asking IT departments to find creative solutions to help squeeze new savings out of old processes. A whopping 70% of respondents said that they were planning a companywide audit of all IT activity to determine where to best cut costs.
Many IT professionals are using the mandate to cut costs as an excuse to implement sweeping improvements to their company’s IT infrastructure. Cost-cutting measures are increasingly focused on working smarter, so while 70% said that they were reducing the number of new projects within their departments, they were also planning some larger infrastructure changes to fundamentally improve the way people work.
Specifically, 65% of survey respondents said that they would increase automation, 51% said that they would invest more in employee and customer education, and 38% said that they would implement systemwide process managers such as those defined in the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, a set of IT management best practices in the U.K. Only 28% planned to outsource to trim costs.
Jon Efford, principal service management consultant at Plan-net, PLC, a U.K. IT consulting firm, cautions that cutting budgets back too far could be just as bad for a department’s long-term health as cutting them too little. The key, he says, is taking smart, focused action with long-term goals such as increasing efficiency, not succumbing to short-term pressures to pinch pennies at any price.
“My money would be on the bolder companies emerging in better shape after the recession,” Efford says. “The recession could also mean an opportunity to bring in radical changes in the way IT service relates to the rest of the business. Now could be the time for IT to puff out its chest and say to the users, ‘We are working smarter, automating more tasks and now we need you to step up to the plate as well,’ so those organizations that seize this opportunity to shift to a self-service, knowledge-driven culture will also be in a stronger position in my opinion.”
Tom Weston, Sunrise’s executive chairman, says IT departments should promote themselves as efficiency-enablers. “IT is needed as a means to increase productivity and efficiency—the recession just sets IT a different challenge: less blue-sky thinking, more focus on productivity and improving efficiencies.” He points out that several industry experts see adopting industry best-practice frameworks as a key efficiency trend in 2009.
Both men agreed that IT professionals’ best strategy to weather the recession is to combine a positive attitude with a bold, long-range strategy to nurse companies’ budgets back to health. “Businesses are intent on finding ways of improving their competitiveness and are far more likely to want to invest in getting the fundamentals right than in nice-to-have discretionary projects that might not live up to their expectations,” Weston says. “The main opportunity is for IT to prove its value to the business by embracing a customer-service approach, coupled with strong processes and accountability.”