5 themes for 2012 technology planning

Consolidation and process discipline are just two ways SMBs can squeeze operational costs out of their IT budget, leaving more room for innovation.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

As your company finalizes its technology budget for the 2012 calendar year, it might want to consider some new tips from market research firm Gartner for keeping IT infrastructure costs in check. That way, more of that budget can be dedicated to more meaningful investments focused less on maintenance and more on innovation.

Most of Gartner's suggestions are centered on the data center, which is the heart of any company's technology assets. But you could also extrapolate some of these ideas into what I would call workforce enablement and client-facing technologies. Gartner is focusing on 10 tips for the upcoming year, but I'm going to synergize those into five key themes.

1) Know what is really important. One advantage that smaller companies have over enterprises when it comes to technology investments is that those of you managing IT strategy generally are much closer to line of business priorities. That is, you know what's on the mind of managers throughout the organization. If you don't know, then you should make it your business to do so. Many of the smaller IT service and consulting companies that it is my privilege to know set two different timeframes for prioritization: 12 months out and three years out. What was the last time you revisited what is important to your organization?

2) Get rid of what you don't need. I am a big believer in consolidation, and there are plenty of virtualization options now that make fiscal sense for SMBs, as both VMware and Microsoft vie for the attention of small and midsize businesses. By getting rid of server hardware that isn't being used to capacity and ditching applications that aren't critical to day-to-day business, you can also ditch maintenance and operational costs -- particularly when it comes to electricity. That's increasily important because power costs are rising and it doesn't look like that trend will be reversed any time soon.

3) Revisit networking and communications options. The next wave of telecommunications services, including initial 4g (fourth generation) wireless plans could help your organization keep employees better connected AND help cut connectivity costs. The example I love using to illustrate hidden costs is the traveling executive who is forced to pay for hotel telecommunications services while on the road. Those costs aren't usually seen by the IT team, but they can hit the travel budget pretty hard.

4) Get formal about support and service processes.By introducing more discipline into the way certain service requests are resolved -- both when supporting employees or when updating applications, applying security pitches and so on -- more of these processes can be automated. That leaves more time for IT teams to focus on creating rather than maintaining.

5) Consider alternate sourcing strategies.This is where the cloud fits in. Email is the most profound example of an application that could be handled in the cloud, taking another load off your team. Your organization should also consider the implications of the "bring your own device" movement. By allowing employees to use their own smartphone or notebook computer for work purposes, you can encourage and enable higher levels of productivity. However, managing those devices can be tricky. Security policies must be set, plus you'll have to figure out how to distribute and manage the applications used by your organization.

Editorial standards