Recovery Ahead

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

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By re-examining existing IT resources, Lowery also found a simpler way to build Ebara's supplier portal.

His original plan was to buy new development tools and build a portal from scratch. But his department realized that it could use Oracle Corp.'s Application Express, which was bundled with its Oracle database. That reduced licensing costs and also saved time: It took less than three months to build the supplier portal, rather than the six months the team had originally allotted.

Don't just reduce when you can re-engineer

For Mark Settle, CIO at BMC Software Inc., the downturn meant cutting more than 5% of the company's IT staff. Yet BMC has managed not to cut any of its IT projects. It finished deploying a major rollout of Oracle's HR and Finance software in October, and in April it started using for sales activities like contact and lead management.

BMC kept projects going in part by taking a hard look at employees' responsibilities. Settle realized that cost-cutting over the years had led his senior developers and architects to gradually take on operations and service tasks. Automating those tasks has freed his senior-level staffers to do more senior-level work.

For example, about half of BMC's IT employees are developers, who need new runtime environments for their code. These usually are built to custom specifications and take up to six weeks to create. Because they're specialized, they often create glitches that crash BMC's server clusters, forcing reboots. One of BMC's automation engineers determined that it cost the company $5,000 every time a server needed rebooting. He then figured out how to create a catalog of standard environments that could be made available to developers within two hours.

"We'll still do custom work, but you'd be amazed how those [requests] melt away when they can get something in two hours," says Settle. The server crashes diminished as well.

Consider -- or reconsider -- outsourcing

With revenues crushed at many companies, even IT managers who avoided outsourcing in the past are being forced to consider it anew.

Applied Materials Inc., a nanomanufacturing technology company in Santa Clara, Calif., has used outsourcing to help it deal with the down cycles that hit the semiconductor industry about once every seven years. It has developed flexible service-level agreements that allow it to add or subtract employees quickly.

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