While IT professionals are being asked to do more with less in the current economy, lower costs and a higher ROI are the results of behavioral changes, not a reduction in the IT budget. We asked IT professionals how they could immediately improve efficiency in their departments. The solutions they offered are simple but involve behavioral changes on the part of end-users, including partners.
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This article spotlights five areas that can impact your IT spending and return immediately:
PRINTERS AND PRINTING
Printers have proliferated throughout firms. While they are relatively inexpensive, toner, paper and maintenance can be costly. Across an entire firm costs that include filing, storing, retrieving and destroying paper can be significant.
Server virtualization allows one server to act as multiple servers, reducing hardware costs, space requirements and power consumption. Many firms are reducing costs while increasing performance through virtualization. Some even report consolidating eight to 10 servers into one. Hosting services are using hardware virtualization to reduce fees.
Departmental leaders often over-license core applications assuming everyone needs them. According to our most recent survey of leading firms, software costs range from 25 to 35 percent of IT investments. Ongoing discussions persist about whether firms should subscribe to enterprise licensing with Microsoft. These agreements are generally for firms of 250 or more users. Small firms can benefit from volume hosted licensing.
Keeping track of licenses and inventorying equipment are vital tasks. Firms do not want to risk an audit by Business Software Alliance or Microsoft and be out of compliance. Enterprise licenses give the ability to "true-up" annually. By selecting the appropriate date (normally June/July/August), firms can reduce the number of licenses during peak season.
ADHERENCE TO STANDARDS, POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
Standardization in IT saves money on purchases, maintenance and compliance, yet many firms allow select offices and end-users to deviate from standards. This costs firms thousands of dollars annually. Leading firms are now utilizing a "rip and replace" policy during mergers which eliminates many IT support and maintenance issues.
Some critical areas of standardization include tax software, audit software, practice management, research, notebooks, desktops, servers, printers, cell phones, operating systems and email management. Areas that produce significant results when standardized are time entry and billing, tax return processing and financial reporting. Standardizing email procedures and processes, and then training end-users how to properly use their systems can save end-users five-plus hours per week and reduce the firm's risk in case of litigation.
TRAINING AND LEARNING
Training and learning are most beneficial when conducted on the two-way street model, which requires everyone to teach as well as learn. Gartner says for every one hour of training, end-users increase capacity by five hours. This means firms can reap a significant return on their training investments. Metrics from the past five years indicate that most firms average 50 percent chargeability (when factoring all personnel). Using 50 to 100 hours of this non-chargeable time for training will improve performance significantly.
Other training components include traditional CPE (technical skills) and soft skills. According to a recent study, the total training time required during the first three years in the profession is approximately 150 hours. As people progress through the profession, more of this time should focus on personal development, client development and developing others. Too many accountants fail to recognize the importance of IT and soft skills. Life-long learning (not state board hour requirements) develops quality personnel.
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting.