Out with the old, in with the new: how to save cash

Identifying ageing technology and throwing it out can result in significant cost-savings, IT managers say. Sandra Gittlen explains some of the steps that can be taken

Keeping a tight rein on

spending is vital for a lot of organisations, and IT departments are scrambling to save every dollar possible. Some IT veterans say there’s no need to look further than your own network’s aging technologies and manual processes to cobble together some last-minute savings or get a jump on the next budget year.

They recommend ripping and replacing any older technology and manual procedures that drain helpdesk resources, waste valuable storage space and cost ongoing licensing fees. For many of these network dinosaurs, there are viable replacements that allow you to streamline management and support, consolidate resources and free up space. Here are some of their recommendations.

1. Replacing filing cabinets with document scanning

“I would encourage businesses to rid themselves of filing cabinets,” says Rusty Bruns, CIO at Charleston Southern University. Bruns has been on a mission for the past three years to rid the university of the steel behemoths. He touts the many benefits of document scanning as a business-boosting replacement for sprawling paper storage.

“First is the space savings. One department has created two offices by eliminating nearly 60m of paper and the filing cabinets that littered their spaces,” he says. Second, he says productivity immediately goes up when users are able to work with digital versions of documents. “Need a receipt and processed cheque from last year? A few keystrokes and the documents are ready for viewing and printing.” Bruns says before document scanning, he would have to send an IT staffer off to another building to search through boxes for a paper trail.

Accuracy is another benefit that document scanning brings. Errors are reduced because data is scanned directly into the system rather than being manually inputted. “Our auditors have expressed their pleasure in the ability to audit our records from on-site and off-site. This would previously have been impossible and now they can complete their audits faster.”

Finally, he says users are able to be more productive, as they can rapidly access all documents via email or storage servers rather than having to fax and hand-deliver paperwork across campus.

2. Replacing floppy drives and CDs with thumb drives or DVDs

In the past, IT groups created “sneakernets” that allowed them to go from desktop to desktop to patch and upgrade computers. This required floppy drives at every workstation. But in today’s era of centralised tools that push software upgrades and patches out to users, individual floppy drives and CD spindles are out of date.

That said, some users are clinging to floppies, making IT pay the price in terms of helpdesk resources. “End users’ refusal to give up this familiar technology requires us all to continue to support them,” says Tom Gonzales, senior network administrator at the Colorado State Employees Credit Union.

Gonzales says he agrees that users need some sort of local external, portable storage, but that storage should be secured and easy to manage. He encourages those on his network to use USB thumb drives and DVDs. Thumb drives feature security such as password protection and encryption for heightened security and the DVDs have larger capacity than CDs.

3. Replacing desktop printers with shared, centralised printers

Go to any organisation and you’re bound to see offices each equipped with desktop printers. Users retain individual printers for two reasons — convenience and confidentiality. However, as IT groups become more centralised and helpdesk resources constrained, the upkeep required for personal printers is too great, says Dawn Sawyer, IS operations manager at GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. She recommends consolidating printers so that multiple users can share them and reduce the helpdesk’s burden in terms of hardware and software upkeep.

While users may complain that they don’t want to print out private documents in front of colleagues, Sawyer says “more printers are getting security features that allow them to print confidential documents”. She adds that consolidation “not only reduces the number of printers, but keeps maintenance costs down as well”.

4. Replacing modem pools with VPNs and SSL technologies

For years, companies have relied on modem pools to offer reliable access for remote users. However, this aging approach to users tunnelling into the network is out of sync with many organisations’ move to enhanced security, according to Joanne Kossuth, CIO at the Franklin W Olin College of Engineering. Kossuth says that rather than relying on this insecure technology, companies should invest in virtual private networks (VPNs) and Single Socket Layer (SSL) technologies to offer users a safe and reliable way to access critical applications and documents.

VPNs also offer greater speeds and SSL provides the security necessary to protect organisations from hackers and other vulnerabilities. “With the ubiquity of VPNs and SSL technologies today for remote access as well as the cost and security threat they present, modem pools should be gone,” she says. While Kossuth is a fan of totally eliminating the technology, some IT veterans say having a very limited number of modems could be part of a backup/disaster recovery remote access strategy.

5. Replacing CRT monitors with LCD monitors

Open the computer storage closet for many companies and you’re bound to see piles of CRT monitors spilling out. They also still represent the heavyweight of most desktop setups. However, as companies try to slim down the profile of the desktop and make it more condensed, flexible and portable, IT managers say thinner LCD monitors are the better choice. “CRT monitors are big, heavy and bulky; not the best combination for a desk or workspace,” the Southern Baptist Convention’s Sawyer says. She adds that flat-panel LCD monitors are improving every day. “LCDs are getting better and more reliable and costs are coming way down. This makes them affordable to any business and their lifespan is greater so their overall cost is lower.”

6. Replacing “older stuff” with newer, easier-to-manage technology

“Many of us have that one remaining NT server, or old Unix application running. Generally it’s something that has worked for years and doesn’t impact too many customers so we’ve never upgraded it,” Sawyer says. But even technologies that need little to no attention can still be costly in terms of licensing and can impede efforts to streamline the network. “Most likely these technologies are no longer supported nor are they compatible with newer technologies so it’s time to say goodbye,” she says.

She recommends bringing all technology up to speed and in line with your organisation’s enterprise strategy — such as an upgrade to a newer version of Windows Server if you’re a Windows shop. This allows IT to do volume licensing, streamline support and consolidate resources, all of which can result in significant cost savings.

Other technologies that IT pros have on their radar screens for annihilation: FTP in favour of virtual private networking and ubiquitous email encryption, and tape-based dictation machines in favour of digital recording programs. IT managers say walking around your organisation, looking in each office and storage closet and identifying aging technologies will reveal opportunities to save hard dollars.

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