Recovery Ahead

Don't just sit there. It's time to position your IT department for the economic upturn, whenever it comes.

Anne Agee is living a dual life at work these days. On the one hand, she's facing the prospect of a deep cut in her IT budget. On the other, she's bracing for a boom in business.

Agee, CIO at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is in a position that many IT managers find themselves in these days -- coping with the ongoing effects of a grinding recession while simultaneously being asked to get ready for a recovery.

At UMass Boston, Agee has to prepare for a possibly devastating budget cut cut while also readying her department for an influx of students, and related faculty hiring, as families shift from more expensive schools to state colleges.

Agee is using the downturn to eliminate sacred cows, such as a long-standing remote-access modem pool that costs several thousand dollars a month in connection fees. That will be replaced by an existing virtual private network, which will cost less and be more secure. She's also pushing to eliminate fax machines, with the goal of putting in fax servers or related technology. And she's exploring whether she can replace individual desktop printers with centralized, shared multifunction printers.

She's already renegotiating vendor contracts, to reduce the risk of needing to cut staff if she does have to whack her budget. Another hedge would be to close labs on weekends and delay certain technology purchases.

Agee isn't the only IT manager having to plan for growth during a downturn. We talked with several, and they offered the following nuggets of wisdom.

Take care of your business partners

The downturn has given some IT managers a chance to slow down and examine what they've been racing around doing. That's the case for Frank Lowery, IS director at Ebara International Corp., which makes liquid natural gas equipment in Sparks, Nev.

While Ebara has had some layoffs, Lowery himself has had to neither lay anyone off nor cut his budget. Still, business has slowed, so he's had the opportunity to evaluate past projects and look ahead.

That has led to a refocusing of resources, from customer projects to ones that will help Ebara's suppliers. Instead of building a massive portal to share data with customers and suppliers, as Ebara had originally planned, it built a supplier portal only, with the customer piece on hold until later.

That might seem counterintuitive, but the company builds its equipment to order, so holding off on addressing suppliers' needs could create efficiency problems. "If we can make it easier for suppliers to do business with us, in the end it saves us money," says Lowery.

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