IT cost optimization: The skill that dare not speak its name

Technology professionals have been forced to get really good at doing more with less. They just don’t want the world at large to know

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It’s not the worst thing I’ve heard said about IT departments, but it certainly caught the attention of everyone in the room: “They’re not gods anymore.”

This was a comment made during a panel discussion I recently hosted that featured an IT recruiter, a market researcher, a consultant and an executive with a major technology vendor. I won’t bother specifying who said it, but everyone on the panel seemed to agree. CIOs and IT managers are being deluged with requests from employees to use whatever devices and applications they want. Senior management wants more and more technology outsourced, either to service providers or via cloud computing. The traditional command-and-control approach that characterized much of IT management for the last 40 years is being challenged. My question in response to the panel, and in the days that have followed, is, “If they’re not gods anymore, what are they?”

This is an important consideration as IT organizations of every stripe seek to redefine their position in Canadian organizations and the value they contribute to employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. I’m not sure if the majority of CIOs and IT managers ever really had a Messiah complex, but the nature of their expertise and influence is certainly ripe for debate. And this is all happening as they are being asked to do even more with even less. If there is one thing that has not changed since before the Y2K crisis of 1999, this is it. Almost every year, CIOs admit that budgets are either flat or have been reduced, with small minorities showing a modest bump. As much as they seek to innovate, IT professionals have got to become highly skilled at how they manage the resources available to them. Despite years of practice, few of them seem to identify this as one of their strengths.

If you want proof, check LinkedIn. Over the last year or so, the professional social network has been giving users the ability to list their key skills and have their connections – former coworkers, managers and clients – “endorse” those skills by clicking on a button. These skills are the kind of keywords that companies might search for as they canvass LinkedIn for a potential job candidate. When I typed in “IT cost optimization” on LinkedIn, a detailed page came up that showed six percent growth in the use of the term a skill over the last year, but that may not represent much growth. I found less than 20 people on LinkedIn – not all of them CIOs but consultants – who actually used “IT cost optimization” as one of their skills.

This could speak to the relatively early days of the LinkedIn Skills offering, but it may also suggest a need among technology professionals to see IT cost optimization as more than merely a necessary evil that keeps them from developing innovative ideas for their organization. Perhaps the dream of a bigger budget never dies, and CIOs worry that if they do too good a job at cutting down spending, they will never get the resources they think they need. The forces of consumerization and cloud may have some concerned that much of what needs to be spent will end up being allocated to various lines of business. Whatever the case, it’s time for IT departments to be more visible and vocal about their IT cost optimization achievements. They may not be gods anymore, but as far as their budgets go, many continue to work miracles.


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