Consider the possibility that targeted investments might generate savings and revenues exceeding what you could save through cost cutting.
Economies around the world are slowing down, and companies are looking for ways to trim spending and improve the bottom line. Although information technology often represents a small fraction of the corporate cost base, senior executives inevitably turn their attention to IT budgets for substantial contributions. Yet in some instances, IT investments deliver more value to a company’s top and bottom lines by creating new efficiencies and increasing revenues than any savings gained from traditional IT cost cutting.
IT has come a long way over the past decade. Budgets grew rapidly during the dot-com boom and the run-up to Y2K then declined drastically when the bubble burst. Over the following years, CIOs, working with business unit leaders, improved the performance of IT departments by streamlining application portfolios, reducing infrastructure costs, improving governance, consolidating vendors, and outsourcing many activities.
Much has changed across the business landscape as well. Technology now meshes tightly with operations in ways that weren’t possible a decade ago; the apparel maker Li & Fung, for instance, uses IT to manage supply chains with a network of over 7,500 different suppliers. At the same time, e-business, once a buzzword, now forms a part of the corporate status quo. IT capabilities have fostered new sales channels, defined new customer segments, and even helped create new business models.
These factors make reductions in IT spending more complicated than ever. Simplistic cuts, applied across the board, may endanger critical business priorities from sales support to customer service. That potent message should resonate even among corporate officers anxious to find quick savings.
CIOs, of course, should continue to make their operations more efficient and to reduce costs, especially in areas that show signs of bloat. Discipline tends to slip during a lengthy upturn in spending such as the one that has occurred in recent years. Reducing pockets of unproductive expenditure will bring savings that help meet corporate cost targets.
Except in the most drastic circumstances, turning off technology investments during a downturn is counterproductive. When business picks up, you may lack critical capabilities. Besides, many technology investments can improve profitability in the short to medium term.
When business and IT executives jointly take an end-to-end look at business processes, the resulting investments can have up to ten times the impact of traditional IT cost reduction efforts. The trick is to scan for opportunities such as improving the customer experience, reducing revenue leakage, and improving operating leverage.
Creating impact with technology: Such an effort begins with a survey of operations for areas likely to produce near-term revenue and efficiency gains. There are a number of ways in which technology investments can have a substantial impact.
Manage sales and pricing. Develop insights into customer segments and improve pricing discipline to increase revenues without increasing prices. Optimise sourcing and production. Rethink supply chains and logistics to improve the scheduling of deliveries and inventory management.
Enhance support processes: Improve the management and use of field forces (such as installers and field technicians) and of customer support centers.
Optimise overhead and performance management: Sharpen awareness of risk exposure and improve decision-making and performance-management processes.
To extract value from these opportunities, companies must make managerial improvements in two areas.
Developing new insights: Few companies have successfully capitalised on the explosion of data in recent years. Often this information, residing in separate IT systems or spread across different business units, has never been mined for insights that could add value. Small teams of business and IT staffers can find opportunities by combining a detailed understanding of business processes with straightforward analyses of consolidated data sets. When such teams use the data to compare best practices across regions or to identify under and over served customers, for example, they can identify hotspots of revenue leakage.