How Cuts to Maintenance Costs Can Cause On-the-Job Stress

 
 
By Don E. Sears  |  Posted 2009-09-23 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Trimming or even eliminating maintenance costs with hardware and software vendors during a recession is a normal trend. But what's the effect on IT staffs? It can create a negative work environment that is a breeding ground for poor morale and angry technicians and, worst of all, alienate those you need most when times are good: the IT staff.

There isn't an area of technology management where cost is not a factor.

For many organizations, maintenance costs are a necessary evil, especially when certain customer-facing systems are crucial to business. But eliminating industry-standard 4-hour turnaround times in most hardware maintenance contracts is a risk many CFOs and some CIOs are willing to take during a recession. If it's not considered crucial, you can wager that someone in the board room is looking for ways to cut it out completely-or at least cut it down.

Sometimes, though, cost-cutting comes back to bite you on the back side when internal systems move at a snail's pace and worker productivity is detrimentally affected. Here's an example from the Computerworld article "Slashing IT maintenance budgets: Sign of the times":

"A network accelerator, which compresses traffic to get more speed over the network, recently broke at the sporting-goods firm (a large Midwestern sporting goods manufacturer). IT couldn't call the vendor to fix it, the engineer said, because there's no longer a maintenance contract on it. So his company began looking for a used replacement on eBay. 'We lived without the extra speed while it was being replaced; everything just slowed down,' he said. The device has since been replaced.

"For their part, end users 'were noticing the cuts,' he said. 'The network slowed down ... and people don't like that.' That caused new trouble tickets to be generated due to speed complaints, which overloaded the IT staff with even more work.

"'They're generally OK when they're told it's going to hurt,' he said of cuts and their effects on company workers. 'Then when it hurts, they don't like it. We spent some time in meetings where we had to remind people that they agreed to this' when the cuts were looming. 'Everyone wants a fuel-efficient car, but they still want it to go fast.'"

It's hard to argue with the logic that says companies need to trim at every level of an organization. The caveat is understanding what is crucial to revenue and what is crucial to supporting revenue. Sometimes the two are very much in competition as they are seen as customer-centric versus an internal process. Many of those internal processes may not make the company money, but rather, may keep the company from losing revenue as it relates to rolling out a new product, of answering a client need or allowing a development team to work efficiently while on a key project. Understanding how to best balance the performance of everything (worker productivity, revenue, project efficiency, systems, etc.) is complex.

Having some built-in hardware and software failover capabilities and redundancies should help. But sometimes, things completely fail or die, and you are simply going to need to call in a vendor, and without a current maintenance contract, the company will be charged generally exorbitant hourly rates to fix. It's a tough situation.

Another issue is that maintenance costs themselves, while similar to insurance policies, are very high in terms of monthly costs and can be difficult to negotiate when the economy is good. Recessions change that a bit.

From the same article:

"'Vendors have been lobbying us really hard' to reinstitute the maintenance contracts, 'giving us discounts, and are starting to soften policies and prices to try to get us back.' In the future, maintenance contracts will once again become the norm in his company as new gear is purchased, he [the IT worker from the sporting goods firm] believes. 'For the old stuff that's already in place, [though,] I don't see it coming back.'"

 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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