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Technology planning: Include other departments for maximum savings

To get most from its technology budget, a company must be sure to involve facilities, security, IT and telecommunications in the planning process.

What you will learn from this tip: Taking an end-to-end perspective when researching your next big technology purchase will help save time and money in the end.

The idea of including other departments in technology planning is often met with a response that could be summarized this way: Are you crazy? What do other departments know about planning? They all have an 'expert' who happens to read some trade magazine, and arguments ensue. It is much easier to simply dictate a plan.

That sort of knee-jerk commentary can create an atmosphere that may cause more to be spent on technology than is needed. Reactionary dollars cover less than proactive dollars, and to get the most from its technology budget a company must destroy such fiefdoms. Before you think I have lost my mind, allow me to elaborate.

Just as no security policy is effective without input and buy-in from each and every department in a company, the same can be said for technology plans. Most IT departments strive to be just like the Maytag repairman, invisible and under the radar. Companies usually notice IT efforts only when there is a problem or during an upgrade. The day-to-day workings of the department are taken for granted. So pardoxically, in order to remain invisible, the best thing to do is to become more visible--at least in the planning.

Most IT professionals have been stuck fixing things after the fact, but with no input on the initial purchase. In fact, according to a recent Gartner study, last year 20% of all IT purchases were for things that didn't work. That's a bit scary. So when you start your technology plan, the best thing to do is circulate a questionnaire beforehand. It should be routed to each department and should include the following:

  • Name of department
  • Anticipated software purchases in the next 5 years
  • Anticipated hardware purchases in the next 5 years
  • Current applications that are not performing as expected
  • Reasons that those applications are not performing (e.g., slow, crash often)
  • Are your printing capabilities sufficient?
  • Are your desktop systems operating effectively?
  • Do you have any applications that require specialized security?
  • Please ask one "power user" in your department to provide his or her top three wishes.
  • Please ask one "average" user in your department to provide his or her top three wishes.

With the compiled results of this questionnaire in hand, the asset relocation can begin. Companies have long understood the benefits of providing power users with the best machines and then rolling other machines to less-demanding users. But consider the benefits of doing the same with servers, printers and other network hardware. Think reallocation before you think about purchasing. For example, maybe one department has a server that will be replaced with a new application. The other server could then become a server for another application or even a front-end processor for indexing or other functions.

It may also be advantageous to consider group purchasing. Take blade servers as an example. It is more cost-effective to buy four blades; each can be operated and managed as needed, but they share a chassis.

Think also about switches in the same way. If you have multiple departments that will require a gigabit to the desktop, how about grouping them where it's possible to do so? With the new gigabit switches, VLANs and their administration may be able to be eliminated due to higher processing speeds.

Now comes the fun part. You will want to have a planning meeting with facilities, security, IT and telecommunications. Many companies sacrifice one budget for the sake of another. For instance, rather than upgrade cabling, they let the department with the active electronics purchase equipment that will utilize an older plant. The electronics may cost significantly more, which then means that maintenance and other fees are higher. All projects need to be considered from an end-to-end perspective.

Taking that end-to-end approach when you begin your projects will save you time and money. Sales people will almost always recommend skimping on some portions of an implementation for budgetary reasons. Typically the recommendations to skimp are centered on those portions of the project from which commissions will not follow. They generally are also outside of the salesperson's area of expertise and will involve minimum purchases. The error in this methodology is that the expenses needed to get the systems functional after the initial scrimp are largely necessary, visible and unbudgeted. The best thing to do is to have a pre-project meeting that involves each and every specialty (vendor) that will be involved in the project.

Talking with peers and others that have been through a recent implementation of like size and scope can also prove invaluable in both the technology planning phase as well as the project phase. As each project moves forward, compare your plan to your actual expenditures. By following the multi-department and multi-vendor input methodology, you will find that you are much closer than you would have been otherwise.

Carrie Higbie has been involved in the computing and networking industries for nearly 20 years. She has worked with manufacturing firms, medical institutions, casinos, healthcare providers, cable and wireless providers and a wide variety of other industries in both networking design/implementation, project management and software development for privately held consulting firms and most recently Network and Software Solutions.

As the Global Network Applications Market Manager for The Siemon Company, her responsibilites include providing liaison services to electronic manufacturers to assure that there is harmony between the active electronics and existing and future cabling infrastructures. She participates with the IEEE, TIA and various consortiums for standards acceptance and works to further educate the end user community on the importance of a quality infrastructure. Carrie currently holds an RCDD/LAN Specialist from BICSI, MCNE from Novell and several other certifications.

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