Keep your key projects off the chopping block

How to save make-or-break IT initiatives in troubled times

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Last fall, he launched Apps for Democracy, a 30-day public contest that invited citizens, software developers and the private sector in general to create mashup applications for the district's data using technologies like the iPhone, Facebook and Google Maps. For $50,000, D.C. got 47 applications that Kundra claims would have cost $2.6 million to develop in-house.

Whatnell says that the economic crisis will force more companies to consider nontraditional ways of delivering IT, such as using Web-based applications rather than installing software on every PC. IT departments sometimes overengineer a system rather than using a less-expensive technology that could do the job, according to Whatnell. For example, he says, why not use Skype Internet communications software instead of a multimillion-dollar videoconferencing system?

Another way to cut costs is to re-examine how a project is structured, says Kundra. In the District of Columbia's deployment of an ERP system, he limited the use of expensive consultants and replaced the traditional five-day workweek with round-the-clock shifts to increase productivity. The team completed the project five months ahead of schedule and under budget, he says.

The financial crisis is "a great opportunity to do more with less," says Kundra. "Technology should be the leader in finding the innovative path."

In fact, it can also be an opportunity for CIOs to show how the creative application of technology can further cut costs, increase productivity and even create new sources of revenue. At Harrah's, IT executives have suggested that the company could sell consulting services in two technology areas in which it excels -- data mining and business intelligence, says Daughtry. Monetizing a company's core expertise, even things that were previously guarded as corporate "secret sauce," has become a hot topic in boardrooms, he says.

Spend your political capital

Whether a CIO is proposing new revenue streams or defending an important ongoing project, one skill is critical in these difficult times: political savvy. If an IT executive has built up political capital and credibility, now may be the time to spend it. If he's proved to be flexible and reasonable, has made sacrifices that demonstrate a sincere desire to do what's best for the company, and has the ear of the CEO or CFO, he may be able to use his political leverage.

But beware: Strategic, enterprisewide projects are usually highly visible and carry the potential for a big impact on the business. Therefore, they can be highly risky for the CIO who fights for them, notes Krigsman. By playing the political card, a CIO "is putting his own credibility -- and, by extension, his own career -- on the line," he says.

On the other hand, in today's environment, a CIO who saves a deserving project -- a project that proves to be vital to the company's survival or success -- will cement his reputation.

Harbert is a Washington-based freelance journalist specializing in technology, business and public policy.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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