Keeping Innovation Turned On – Part Two
In our previous blog post, which was part one of this series, we began a discussion of the challenges faced when trying to find a balance between IT innovation and simply “keeping the lights on.” In that post we covered a few ways companies have attacked that problem, by tightening the cost of essential systems through the use of cloud computing and standardization of software.
One factor that often drives companies away from standardization is the desire to put the customer first. This can result in a situation where systems are delivered the way a client “wants”, but without consideration for what is appropriate and efficient for their business. It also has the added negative effect of creating one-off systems that are more expensive to keep running. This is why standardization is a great way to tighten essential costs.
Another challenge to getting the right balance can be found within company budgets themselves. Often the “keeping the lights on” money is lumped together with the “innovation” money in one IT budget. This can result in innovation projects being cancelled when the apparent cost of essential services goes up. Many in our industry are now considering the benefits of splitting these two IT budgets apart. This eliminates the chance of cannibalizing the innovation budget and it usually results in tighter controls on clearly defined essential services costs.
In addition, if innovation project costs are paid out of other department budgets (the ones desiring the innovation effort) they will take ownership of the project and be expected to justify the expense. And so even though the IT department will service and manage these requests, it shifts the burden of justifying the expense and helps ensure correct use of resources.
System maintenance needs are another area to consider when doing a budget overhaul. Nothing can drive up the cost of keeping the lights on faster than repeated unexpected repairs. But there are ways to plan ahead and minimize the impact of these costs. Many companies have invested in advanced monitoring systems to evaluate things like data storage levels and e-mail functionality to get warnings before things get to a breaking point. These kinds of systems can also free up IT staff time and resources, which can then be put to use in other areas.
Planning ahead doesn’t just involve monitoring systems however, but actually keeping an eye toward future needs. Some companies have chosen to incorporate a strategy of one-step-ahead future thinking into their business plans. Once they complete a project, they immediately look ahead to anticipate future needs or technological advances, and test them by piloting small projects. By making small investments to test new technology, their company’s IT departments are closer to ready when those requests are eventually made.
The balancing act between innovation and essential services is something that can be adjusted, but it takes a focused and consistent effort across the board. When it’s done right however, we find that companies can keep both the lights AND innovation turned on, which is great for the bottom line.