Las Vegas (May 7, 2004) -- "The most important asset an organization has is a good infrastructure, and if you manage your IT effectively it will be cost effective." That was the message from Grant Thornton's chief information officer to attendees this week at the AICPA's Information Technology Conference.

Addressing a room filled primarily with CPAs responsible for technology purchasing and consulting at their firms, GT's David Holyoak stressed that there's a constant battle between cost and value for clients and firms. He offered several suggestions on how to "deliver effective client services while driving costs down."

There are six key areas where firms spend the most, according to Holyoak: outside services; voice and data products and infrastructure; software maintenance; hardware leasing; salaries and benefits; and depreciation.

Holyoak said that he has kept Grant Thornton’s IT spending between $14 million and $17 million for several years by instilling four key practices: standardization, centralization, communication and education -- the first two being the most important to start with.

"Most firms may not be at our size and scope, but we all deal with the fact that, for the most part, the people you serve aren’t going to wake up and tell you, ‘You are doing a good job,’" Holyoak said. "These four main practices can help lower your overall IT costs, improve your purchasing power, and give you higher user-support ratios."

He said that IT costs can be driven down 25 to 30 percent by simply standardizing all equipment and infrastructure in an organization. That includes everything from having everyone use one kind of software or hardware to installing the same type of wiring.

For centralization -- optimizing the technology at the firm and client level -- he noted that having a strategic plan or vision is all-important.

"Ultimately you need to look at your total IT costs holistically, pick a standard and stick to it, and think of technology in terms of meeting business needs," Holyoak said. "You should also remember your audience. Don’t hide behind numbers: Show them exactly where the money is being spent and use whatever trend analysis or metrics you can to show how effective your IT spending is."

-- Seth Fineberg

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