How to use your IT department for profit, not cost

Mar 18, 2014





One of the common misconceptions in just about every company is that IT is a necessary evil, a red line item on a budget that cannot be done without. It’s difficult, if not nearly impossible, for some to think of an IT department as anything but cost.

The key to changing that perception is to use IT proactively. When an IT department is run on a reactive basis, it is effectively holding parts of a business back. Think of it like maintenance on a vehicle. You don’t change your oil only when the engine starts to sputter and make loud noises; you do so when recommended by the manufacturer. That data is determined by the developers, practical trials and years of experience. When you only use IT to react to changes in your business or your market, it is basically like changing your oil too late. At that point you’ve missed the window of opportunity. Reactive measures always cost more. There are a few things you can do, though, to keep your engine running at peak performance and give you return on investment.

Find the path of fewer distractions

IT needs to eliminate the distractions that can detract from efficiency. This means doing a few things.

1. Automate what can be automated.

Stop wasting hours on repetitive tasks that don’t necessarily need to be handled manually. Automation (when appropriate) is a huge step in the right direction. This frees up the IT staff to focus on critical tasks that benefit the company in the long term. You don’t need IT staff functioning like robots; we have real robots now.

2. Streamline workflows and communication.

This is critical. Empowering the staff with the responsibility and authority will ensure that things get done on time and in budget. If your IT staff has to waste time getting approvals, having meetings and discussions at every step in the process and so on, this will cause delays and leave less time for other projects. Those new TPS report covers may not really be all that necessary or conducive to getting things done.

“By the seat of our pants” is the go-to process for getting things done for many businesses. Once it becomes standard, rarely does it get questioned or changed. Precedents are powerful and most staff will just follow what others before them have done. This kind of copycat workflow isn’t always effective. Stay flexible and encourage feedback to help improve your processes.

3. Outsource.

Another way to eliminate IT distractions is to outsource tasks that don’t need to be handled by in-house IT. This is tricky because you obviously need to manage the cost effectiveness of outsourcing, but freeing your IT staff from some of the more menial tasks and responsibilities will give them more time to work on projects with longer-term ramifications. IT people like to be challenged and when you free up time for them to work on the “cool stuff,” good things usually happen. Plus, it keeps the work environment fun without the cost of an IT department luau.

(Luaus will still be welcomed and appreciated; who doesn’t love ukuleles and grass skirts?)

Accountability and responsibility are crucial

Give your IT department ownership of and accountability for the resources it expends, what it implements and the results it achieves. Without accountability and goals to meet, you’re just shoveling money into the fire. Giving geeks a pile of money and not attaching any restrictions will likely lead to disaster. Before you know it, the staff will have replica lightsabers and a scale Doctor Who Tardis in the corner.

Now, don’t misunderstand this as “squeeze every penny of your budget until Abraham Lincoln screams at you.” You still need to give your IT staff the budgetary resources it needs to work effectively. When you empower them to show results and hold them accountable for budget, they are less likely to be carefree with money.

Giving the IT staff the responsibility for the solutions it implements and the results it produces also will incentivize the staff. Someone who takes prideful ownership of a project and sees it through to the end will always put more effort into it. When someone is just handed a list of directives, they tend to distance themselves. That’s when delays and budget issues tend to happen. Passion drives innovation and creativity and determination drive completion. It’s very hard to be passionate or determined when you aren’t given responsibility.

Include IT at the table (for every meal)

IT needs to be included in business decisions. This is something I say constantly. Presumably you have an IT team in order to give input and advice on technical decisions, and yet some internal departments may consider it a success to cut IT out of the process, then dictating needs and wants after decisions and purchases are made. This often costs money in the end, thanks to excessive costs, implementation delays or backtracking after the business charged down the wrong path or rolled out the wrong technical solution.

IT should have a seat at the table, and not just for the highly technical matters. By including them in all aspects of what you do, you’ll allow them to provide technical insight into what can be done internally and externally to help facilitate your goals. Those are shared goals; the IT department’s own goals should be in alignment with them.

IT departments are no longer siloed, autonomous entities. Getting out of those silos is the difference between IT making you money or costing you money. Technology is interwoven into every aspect of every modern business; that philosophy should be embraced rather than feared or isolated.

When you embrace technology as part of your overall company strategy, it will allow you to take the next step of taking your IT capabilities and including them in your product, combining their digital services and unique insights to forge new services and bring in new revenue.

Your IT department can be and should be a valued and profitable asset to your company. Just don’t keep it in a glass case to be broken only in case of emergency.

Post by Anthony Damiano

Anthony Damiano is a technology and security professional with over 20 years of experience, an actor and producer, former U.S. Marine and experienced geek. Anthony held management positions at Universal Pictures, NBC Television and the Motion Picture Association of America and also works as a consultant in information security and as a developer on many open source projects. He is also an amateur chef, hobby artist and Super Villain in training.