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Being Responsible and Creative in Financially Challenging Times - Notes from February 25th Discussion Session

2009 EDUCAUSE Southwest Regional  Conference

Discussion Title:  Being Responsible and Creative in Financially Challenging Times, February 25, 2009

Notes provided by Jeanette Van Galder, Assistant Vice President for Information Technology, University of Northern Colorado


The majority of the group indicated that, although personnel is their largest expense, cutting professional IT staff was/will be their last resort.  NOTE:  One reason given was because it is so difficult to get the FTE (should there be a turnaround).  STRATEGY FOR CUTS:  Reduce staff through attrition and staff will need to be retooled/trained

1) Augment IT staff with student workers


One institution mentioned that they now only hire work study students to reduce their expenses.  REACTION: while this strategy may reduce the department’s expense it may be negatively affecting the institution by shifting the expense to the student financial aid department

When hiring students make sure you are doing so strategically; if not you could lose a significant portion of your well trained, knowledgeable workforce that you have trained should they all graduate at the same time.  

Establish a partnership with academic programs.  For example students taking a web programming class could assist IT by creating a website(s) as part of the course.  REACTION:  introduces security risks if the application is sensitive REACTION: have students write documentation

2) Augment IT staff by hiring consultants or outsourcing


STRATEGY:  Outsource your tier 1 support

One institution indicated that they experienced inconsistency when they hired a consulting firm.  The firm would regularly bring in different staff and producing varying results.  REACTION:  You MUST manage your contract.  Do not hesitate to address the problem immediate (don’t wait for things to improve if your having problems with the consultant/firm).  REACTION:  Look for best time for contract renewals to occur – one institution tries to write their maintenance contracts come due in September.

Prioritizing Cuts

  • Make it about them (the customer).  Have the customer identify where the cuts should be made.  RESPONSE:  It is extremely important to communicate what cuts are being made and be sure others (faculty, staff and students) know who made the decision.  Otherwise, it could be assumed that IT made a decision to cut a certain product/service instead of the customer
  • Be certain you understand the entire cost.  Understand how making an IT cut may affect non-IT areas because the cut may just shift the burden to another unit and is not really an institutional savings (could increase institutional expenses)
  • Poll customers – what mission critical, what is core, what is essential.  Don’t assume products & services currently provided are all well received and highly used.  For example students may prefer Googleapps over MSOffice.  
  •  One institution created a budget task force with sub-teams (cross functional membership) to address where cuts will be made and to come up with creative ideas.

Identify alternative sources of funding

  • Bake sale/Car wash J
  • One institution asked whether any public institutions were going after bailout monies – particularly as it relates to the workforce development initiative
  • Selling old equipment on eBay
  • Extend product (servers) lifecycle instead of automatically refreshing every 3-4 years
  • Run workstation apps on a server (Virtualization)
  • Grants                                                     
  • PC warranty programs 0- technical IT staff become Apple or Dell Certified perform warranty work and are paid from Apple/Dell.
  • Workforce training
  • Partnership with local businesses
  • Provide hosting services to the community

Support Exec Decisions

  • It is important to identify the institution’s IT expenses (not only central IT costs) to understand where opportunities may exist.  There could be redundant systems that could be centralized for example multiple file server installed in multiple departments could be consolidated.  
  • Create realistic business cases that address current IT products/services. 

Creative Solutions

  • Extend (delay – don’t eliminate) IT programs and/or projects (ex. Computer replacement programs)
  • Getting the community more involved – getting them invested
  • Conduct a copier/printer study – Also, some institutions have changed their default settings to be black & white on color printers or set the printer to print in econo-mode.
  • Introspective – how to improve without increasing costs
  • Utilize IT staff (like analysts) to reach out to other departments and help them understand what products and services IT currently provides which could improve their business processes. 
  • Suggest ways current technology can improve and potentially reduce/eliminate their expenses.  One institution mentioned that they are selecting a single helpdesk/trouble ticketing application that can accommodate multiple areas-the example was facilities work request & IT help desk function similarly and could use the same application instead of purchasing a more customized solution for each.   
  • Some software may not being fully utilized –look at software license management applications such as Keyserver or  ThinApp 
  • Question your assumptions
  • Proactive costs versus reactive costs

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