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11/8/2010
04:09 PM
Craig Mathias
Craig Mathias
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Mathias On Mobility: Why IT Should Buy More

While IT managers must scrutinize productivity and TCO, "return on information" remains the last strong competitive differentiator.

One topic absolutely defines 2010: cost. Or, more accurately, cutting costs to the greatest degree possible. A recurring theme for IT managers is that costs must be cut and then cut again, nominally by the familiar yet arbitrary 10%.

All the while, it’s important to maintain the same level of services (including user support), expand mobility initiatives from supporting ever-more handsets (last year the iPhone, this year Android) to upgrading the WLAN (to 802.11n) and expanding the WLAN’s mission (increasingly including voice).

CFOs seem to delight in this annual torture, but let’s be fair: Businesses should always, irrespective of global economic issues, run as lean as possible. Spending more than necessary is never a good idea; every expenditure must be weighed against its return on investment.

While IT may be a cost center, the "I" in IT can be a profit center. Information (or access to it) is the last good competitive differentiator today. Knowledge of markets and technologies and manufacturing processes spread like wildfire, and competitive advantage is short-lived in most domains. The potential exception results from how a given company handles its information resources.

Enabling secure anytime/anywhere access to information can improve customer service, market position and the bottom line. That is why expenditures on mobility continue at a high rate. In fact, IT is justifiably famous for the faster/better/cheaper model that improves price/performance dramatically and regularly.

But there are two components to IT costs, and only capital expenses, which include planning, equipment and non-recurring engineering, yield better value every year.

The drag is on the operating expense side: management, network operations, user services, troubleshooting, etc. These are labor-intensive and often involve highly skilled staff that only becomes more expensive over time. While we could never automate our way to eliminating the operating expense component, we can take steps to make the operating staff more productive and capable, literally doing more with fewer people required.

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