IT Spending in an Economic Slowdown

A couple of months ago, I heard a fellow podcaster state that in this economy, it’s a good idea to try to get vendors of IT equipment and services to give their best price because they’re willing to make deals. While I agree with the sentiment, on one level, I am a bit disturbed. Why? Because quite simply, we have always tried to give our clients the best service and the best price. Unfortunately, the idea of pushing for discounts now implies that there is slack to be cut, but this only applies if your staff (irrespective of whether they are employees, contractors, or volunteers) have been performing non-essential services.
This is a double-edged sword in an economic slowdown, as clients are looking to cut corners where appropriate (I don’t blame them), less willing to take on new projects (I usually don’t blame them), and sometimes, looking to cut essential services (Whoa! You lost me!).
If you are not getting value for services, or they really are non-essential, by all means, cut them. That’s the way I run my business, and I don’t fault anyone else for doing the same. However, cutting essential information technology and security services makes no sense. It puts your information systems into a reactive mode (waiting for something bad to happen), as opposed to a proactive mode (taking steps to prevent bad things from happening).
Think about it: Do you really prefer to wait for your systems to get hacked or to crash due to lack of maintenance then spending money on firewalls, antivirus, and other information technology services? This is like choosing to cancel your alarm system because you’re not being broken into right now, or choosing to not bother to change the oil in your car until the engine seizes up. Unfortunately, hardware failures do not take economic slowdowns into consideration. Neither do end-user questions and desktop support issues.
Right now, I am dealing with a client who has several remote agents in the field, and they have a relatively slow DSL line to the office. The cost of upgrading it would more than be offset by the performance gain that they would realize, so it should be done. Yes, I realize that additional money will be spent but more money will be saved on employee productivity.
We’re also dealing with a client who has had to lay off a number of their workforce, and assign additional tasks to remaining staff members. I have no problem with this either. If your workforce was over capacity and had extra time on their hands, then they should have been tasked with additional work or let go. (If that sounds harsh, business is business, not welfare, and you are hired to do a job.)
Also, if they have the skills to do additional tasks, then it’s not unreasonable to ask that of them. This is like changing your own oil in your car. There are a lot of folks out there who can do so (myself included) but choose not to (myself included). If there are IT tasks within your own organization that an “average user” can do, (troubleshoot paper jams, swap backup tapes, etc.) by all means have them do these.
However, it is important to know where to draw the line. Don’t suddenly put a non-IT person in charge of your network firewall, email server, or patch management system! Maybe you can change your own oil, but I bet there are far fewer people on staff who can change their own car’s transmission, and that’s what this can quickly lead to.
How do you know what tasks should and should not be outsourced? Ask your IT consulting or contracting firm for their input. “But, how do I know they won’t tell me they need to be doing more than they really do?” If you don’t trust your IT department (outsourced or otherwise), you? have a bigger problem that needs addressing.

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