From cloud computing and outsourcing to cleaning up your data and going green, here are top tips for managing info tech in the downturn
With the world in the grip of an economic downturn, making the most of IT spending has never been more important for business.
The Corporate IT Forum recently found that its most senior members are planning to invest in IT but managing costs, careful budgeting and trimming discretionary spending are key priorities.
silicon.com casts an eye over some of the big tech trends that could help IT departments get shipshape for the new year.
Thrift will rule the day in the new year with wallet friendly technologies dominating – from virtualisation to SaaS and green IT to consumer tech.
With datacentre cooling and energy bills going through the roof, server virtualisation allows more power to be squeezed out of fewer processors, by dynamically assigning tasks to idling CPUs.
Clive Longbottom, director for business processes facilitation with analyst Quocirca, told silicon.com that a virtual environment gives the "best bang for your buck" by ramping up machines that traditionally run at 10 per cent CPU capacity to between 40 and 50 per cent.
"You can get rid of datacentres that are not mission critical and use that freed up capacity to provide a built in redundancy to help the business.
"In this way IT can be the way out of the credit crunch rather than the drain it has become," he said.
Charles Ward, COO of IT trade association Intellect, added: "If you want to do more with what you have got then trying to up your utilisation in this way just makes sense."
Take to the clouds
CIOs should be thinking about what parts of the business could be delivered through the cloud, according to experts.
Longbottom said: "Whether you want to call it SaaS or cloud computing, CIOs have got to get into the mindset that there are so many processes, such as managing the supply chain, that can be outsourced to allow somebody else to do the legwork. It will allow you to free up the resources that can be invested in those processes that are unique to the organisation, to make sure that those key business processes are managed carefully and flexibly.
It should be cheaper, as the SaaS providers have the skills and they remove the need for investment, he said.
Analyst Gartner said that smaller companies should look to SaaS for access to high quality and scalable systems that would previously have required businesses to spend large amounts of money establishing and growing the infrastructure in-house.
And Kevin Hoctor, policy adviser with the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "In a tougher market, opportunities to use technology to get ahead of the competition will also be grasped, so this could be utilising more web-based applications."
Intellect's Ward added: "There is a growing acceptance to use this approach for front office applications and discrete stand-alone processes, where you don't need sophisticated integration with the back office.
"At the moment it makes a lot of sense because it reduces implementation costs and what you pay is predictable."
From IBM and other blue chip tech companies through to Whitehall, every organisation began taking green tech seriously in 2008.
And it seems that the credit crunch will do little to diminish this commitment, with a recent survey survey of more than 1,000 companies by Forrester Research finding organisations are stepping up their investment in green tech.
Intellect's Ward said that green IT measures will be increasingly important amid the continuing economic downturn in 2009 because of the cost savings they can generate.
"There are some companies out there who have already implemented travel restrictions to save costs and so are looking for ways of communicating other than face-to-face.
"The cost saving solutions such as videoconferencing are the same that would be used for green IT, so I can see one accelerating the other," he said.
The Greening Government ICT report, a set of guidelines for reducing IT-related emissions in Whitehall, also recommends a range of measures including switching monitors to standby after five minutes of inactivity; automatically shutting down desktop computers outside working hours; reusing as much computer equipment as possible; reducing the numbers of printers used and setting default 'green' print modes such as duplex printing; and auditing datacentres and server use to make sure machines are running at maximum efficiency.
Get tough on outsourcers
Large financial institutions are renegotiating outsourcing deals as companies try to wring savings out of existing contracts.
But outsourcers are also predicted to enjoy a boom in new business as the drive to cut overheads triggers the outsourcing of IT and business processes.
Outsourcing advisory firm Equaterra believes some pretty aggressive stances will be taken, particularly by financial institutions seeking cheaper deals.
Analyst house Ovum is also predicting that in 2009 businesses are likely to demand faster returns on investment and greater efficiency from their outsourcing contracts – making 2009 a good time to take advantage of the rush to strike better terms on outsourcing deals.
Clean up your data
As organisations collect more information than ever and data regulators gain more powers, the cost of erroneous data in corporate systems has grown greatly.
Storage virtualisation, data deduplication and setting up a master database for information should all be at the top of CIOs' to do list.
Holding multiple copies of the same information can be costly and reduce efficiency when searching for information according to Quocirca's Longbottom.
"Most companies could lose about 50 per cent of the data inside the organisation," he noted.
"You are seeing that most companies are sitting on multiple data sets from multiple areas and that they have got dirty data.
"Customers are getting less happy about year-on-year getting four versions of the same communication from a vendor because they have got the same address under a different name each time.
"It looks bad for business because customers think if they have got that sort of thing wrong, what are the quality of their goods like."
He said that companies should undertake data modelling to identify the data that does not change, such as a person's name, and to reduce identical data held on multiple systems, which could instead be stored just once on a master database.
Break out the iPhones?
Businesses need to brace themselves for the increasing number of staff from the Facebook generation demanding more consumer tech in the workplace.
Analysts predict that in 2009 "sandboxed" virtual machines will provide the security needed to give personal laptops and smartphones access to the corporate system.
The virtual machines would give staff access to business applications and information, including the security protocols and software of the corporate system, and are completely isolated from the user's physical machine.
Making a little go a long way has never been so key for the IT department so it's important to make every bit of hardware count.
British Chambers of Commerce's Kevin Hoctor said that a lot of companies will need to look for new service contracts or to hold off on hardware refreshes next year.
"2009 will be a difficult time for all UK businesses and IT department that can deliver easy cost savings will be in demand," he told silicon.com.
"For example greater systems integration, extending the shelf-life of existing hardware or securing cheaper services and products from greater supplier competition could all offer potential reductions."
Intellect's Ward said that CIOs will have to continue to make some hard decisions and put upgrades on the back burner.
"It is easier to delay a hardware refresh or upgrade."
"People will just take longer to get through the procurement process, what would have been done in one month will take three months instead," he said.
Quocirca's Longbottom continued: "They have got to look at what are the best areas for investment now so they will later realise considerable savings but also create a more flexible organisation and rationalise their various applications.
Companies can not afford to ignore the direct link that social networking can provide to their customers and staff.
Analyst house Gartner suggests businesses should be looking to add social networking, collaboration and social media tools to their websites and applications.
It advises: "The greatest risk lies in failure to engage and thereby, being left mute in a dialogue where your voice must be heard."