IT budgets, along with budgets from most areas, are under serious pressure these days as companies look for ways to trim anything that could be perceived as fat.  Along with a reduction in operational dollars, salary lines are also under attack, resulting in loss of staff.  Just this week alone, American payrolls shed more than 100,000 jobs.

At times like this, what does IT need to do in order to provide the best possible support for the organization?  With a severely shrinking resource pool, an IT leader might be inclined to pull back and wait things out by reducing service levels to “bare minimum” status.  With fewer dollars to buy equipment and fewer people to support projects and run operations, it’s understandable why pulling back might be the first instinct.

However, I don’t think it’s the right strategy.  Instead, in these difficult economic times, IT must, whenever possible, strive to continue to support the needs of the business and then some.  Some things will probably have to go away; projects that require a significant upfront investment are not likely to be funded unless there is an incredible and/or very short return on investment.  However, projects that have a relatively low cost of entry and that focus on improving overall efficiency shouldn’t be quickly taken off the table.  Sure, resources – either of the financial or the human variety – may absolutely prevent some seriously impacted IT departments from undertaking anything other than keeping the lights on.

There are still projects that can be undertaken that have relatively low startup costs that should be considered in order to do as much as possible to help steer an organization through these difficult times:

  • Business process reviews. “Time is money”, “doing more with less” – any way you put it, IT is well positioned to help organizations perform top-down reviews of overall business processes. Business process reviews and improvements can help organizations reduce costs in all areas of the business. I’m currently working (slowly, unfortunately) on such an effort. It’s a lot of work, but the possible payoff will be tremendous.
  • Virtualization. If you haven’t yet jumped on the virtualization bandwagon, look at it. Servers and desktops are both prime targets for serious costs savings using the technology. Savings results from less hardware need to lower power requirements.
  • Get your IT house in order. Are you creating new user accounts automatically? Does your electronic access system seamlessly integrate with your ERP? Do you want to implement ITIL? If not, take the downtime as an opportunity to look inside your own IT house for ways to work easier. In the long run, once this economic climate begins to thaw, you’ll be in a better position to move forward.
  • Professional development. Not all professional development has to cost buckets of money. Look for inexpensive ways to continue expanding your skill set and the skills of your staff.

These are just a few things that IT can still do – relatively cheaply, if necessary – while riding out the downturn.