Strategy clinic: balancing budgeting and innovation

Can you offer any tips on finding a balance between the need to control IT budgets while avoiding staff frustration by investing...

Can you offer any tips on finding a balance between the need to control IT budgets while avoiding staff frustration by investing in IT equipment that helps motivate workers and make them feel valued?

Measure, respond and communicate

David Hughes, Deloitte & Touche

All businesses are aware of their IT costs, but few measure the value IT givesto the company and its staff. Although cost is always a constraint, you must determine where IT adds value to the company, or where poor IT performance interrupts daily tasks, in order to do an objective cost-benefit analysis.

Staff frustration with the usability of technology is one of the most significant factors contributing to the perception of poor value. The best strategy to deal with the opposing pressures you describe is to measure, respond and communicate.

Companies should measure the impact of poor IT performance, such as desktop or server downtime or long average fix times, to determine where increased IT investment would result in better availability, less disruption to normal working conditions and reduced levels of staff irritation.

Communicating the company's IT strategy to staff is crucial in managing their expectations. This is a role for executive management, not just the IT manager. If you have a corporate intranet, this could be used as an effective way of communicating to users the benefits of ongoing projects.

In addition, regular IT user group meetings, where department representatives meet with IT and business management, can enable user feedback on IT performance and allow management to directly answer frustrations.

The adoption of a trickle-down approach to desktop asset management may also sugar the pill. A proportion of desktops should be replaced annually with new machines which go to those individuals with high computing needs. This enables existing machines to be re-allocated and reduces the wait for a new machine.

Promise regular replacement of PCs

Roger Elvin, Cranfield School of Management

A colleague and I recently carried out a benchmarking study across a number of organisations in which this was one of the issues compared.

The leaders in the study had a well-formulated and well-executed strategy. The key was the acceptance at all levels of the organisation that desktop computing is an integral part of the way they do business, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

There was no question in the minds of senior management that an effective and well-supported desktop environment is an essential tool for workers. Consequently, they allocated adequate funds, not only to set up the initial desktop environment, but also to keep it up to date. This can mean anything from a two to a four-year replacement cycle, but the length of time is not the issue.

It is important that staff understand that their equipment will be replaced regularly and as a matter of course, and that managers do not have to jump through capital approval hoops to get replacements. Furthermore, software versions should be current, and comprehensive helpdesk and problem resolution capabilities must be provided.

Staff in leading organisations have to accept their role and fulfil their part of the contract. They have to suppress their desire for individuality and accept a standardised, locked-down desktop with centralised control by the IT department. This is necessary to enable IT partners to provide a cost-efficient service.

One organisation we studied reduced its support costs by one third by getting all parties to sign a service level agreement along these lines and making it work.

Do not pander to employees' aspirations

Robin Laidlaw, Computer Weekly 500 Club

Your team is employed not to be entertained but to work, to provide a service, and to generate profit for the organisation.

Presumably you are providing adequate functionality to enable them to carry out tasks. It is probable that their systems at home crash more frequently than those at work, if they are, as you suggest, mature applications.

IT directors complain they have to pay for a range of functionality much greater than most of their staff need. For example, many use Word as a word processing package, a lesser number use Excel and a handful use a more extensive range.

Directors also ask why they cannot get (and pay less for) narrower function packages. It is the same for employees at home. Unless you have people in your team for whom home computing is a hobby, they should have no reasonable expectation of receiving a similar standard at work.

IT expectation should be judged against the range of facilities provided to your employees. You may work from a modern office with an airy atrium and fountains. What is the expectation of people who work in grimy buildings next to railway tracks? If they want an atrium, they need to change their jobs.

You should be concerned with efficiency and effectiveness, productivity and profit. Do they have printers of the same high speed as you? Do they have the same scanner capability? Do they have the same high-memory fax facilities? Do they have high-speed, high-volume, collating photocopying facilities?

If you are not providing the right tools for the job, that is your deficiency: it does not require a comparison with what they have at home.

If staff exhibit "I want one of those" attitudes you need to manage expectations by demonstrating you are providing what employees need to do their jobs in an efficient and economic way.

There are some businesses at the cutting edge of technology, such as design, advertising or publishing - those who want functionality at work can move into jobs here, should they desire. But such careers, although exciting, can also prove highly unstable. In short, they need to grow up.

An occasional thank you goes a long way

Gary Cairns, Certus

It is a popular misconception that providing up-to-date technology with all the bells and whistles helps to motivate staff and make them feel valued.

To motivate staff, forget the technology, just try saying "Well done" or "Thank you" now and then. Limit the reprimands to your best people. This works and costs nothing.

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