Cost often emerges as a point of contention when it comes to technological investments - no business can afford or even benefit from every IT innovation that comes to the market. However, businesses are increasingly looking toward technology to push greater efficiency and ultimately do more with the same number of or fewer resources. Fortunately, there are several principles that can guide companies toward cost savings. Below are four such strategies and how to incorporate them within your business.
1. Eliminate manual processes
Looking at what employees are actually doing with their time serves as a good starting point for identifying potential improvements. Are repetitive and simple data entry tasks bogging workers down? Can business processes be streamlined?
For government organizations, paperwork represents a large source of inefficiency. For instance, Government Technology's Jason Shueh reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently adopted a data extraction solution to input many of its physical documents into its Adverse Event Report System, a recently developed FDA database. Prior to implementing the tool, the agency relied on manual entry for 90,000 of the 900,000 reports that must go into the system - shifting those to automated processes can reduce costs by a factor of five to 10.
The same principle can be applied to any type of information. Not all organizations deal with as much paperwork as the FDA but may still use manual processes that could be eliminated. For example, businesses that rely mostly on email to collaborate on projects or share data would find greater efficiency using a cloud storage environment or a robust collaboration platform to ensure that file versions are consistent and that all stakeholders have access to critical data.
2. Focus on integration
One of the side effects of the explosion of IT-driven innovation is that numerous applications, platforms and other solutions have emerged and the best option for many organizations is some combination of offerings from different vendors. One example of this concept comes from the hybrid cloud, in which companies utilize a mixture of private and public cloud IT resources to get the most scalability possible without sacrificing security.
While having information stored across disparate programs may not seem like a significant expense, it can add up to large productivity losses and lead to inaccurate information. According to the SMB Group's Top 10 SMB Technology Predictions for 2013, SMBs are best served by developing an integration strategy that addresses specific workflow and data quality needs. This means that it is important to assess the existing business environment and identify areas the most in need of improvement. This evaluation process can lead to a comprehensive IT strategy that initiates integration where it will have the most significant impact.
Fortunately, the road to integration has become much easier to navigate. Traditionally, businesses had two main ways of integrating multiple applications:
- Buy packaged applications from a single vendor
- Build complicated and time-consuming integrations internally
As CMSWire contributor Tom Wentworth recently noted, many organizations opted for the first option because it was faster and not as expensive. However, the IT landscape has shifted considerably with the growing popularity of open application programming interfaces. Software built with an "API-first" mindset facilitates integration, meaning that a best-of-breed approach is within the reach of organizations large and small.
3. Improve IT purchasing processes
Organizations without a large IT team may initially find it easier to make retail purchases for products like flash drives and other devices employees may need to do their jobs effectively. However, this approach can be costly due to the pricing differences between the retail and large distribution channels, independent IT consultant Elliot Ross told Business News Daily. Furthermore, he suggested that business managers should have oversight over IT purchases to ensure that they really are necessary for the company.
Having both sides of the organization more heavily involved in IT spending discussions may cause a little departmental tension, but it will also ensure that IT expenses really are providing value. For example, software upgrades can provide a significant boost in productivity as long as employees actually use the new features of the updated version. Otherwise, businesses spend a lot of money for the same functionality they already have. On the other side of the coin, companies that do not honestly evaluate their business needs risk lacking the features that would save their employees time. As a result, it can be beneficial to implement a standard technology purchasing framework so that expenses can not only be planned but justified.
4. Train end users
It may seem like the job of implementation is done once a new piece of software is installed, configured and equipped with all the features users need. Regardless of the potential any software has, no program will provide value if users don't know how to leverage it.
"It amazes me how some companies don't see the value of proper end-user training," wrote TechRepublic Managing Editor Toni Bowers. "They're willing to pay thousands of dollars for a new product that is supposed to improve productivity but aren't willing to do the one thing that will help with that product's adoption in the enterprise. A good end-user training strategy will make new software deployments more cost-effective."
Users may have to spend a lot of time figuring out new software while still on the clock if they haven't been introduced to it through formal training. Worst yet, if the new product is designed to replace another solution, employees are more likely to go back to using the old system because it is convenient and familiar. In this case, companies may spend a lot of time and financial resources developing their own or purchasing new productivity applications only to have their employees go back to using Google Docs or Microsoft Office because those are the applications they're familiar with. Whereas businesses with formal training programs can shorten the user ramp-up period and encourage employees to actually use the preferred software.
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