For companies that aren’t flush with cash, it’s important to keep on top of technologies that save money, both in the short and long term. Here are some of the technologies that gained prominence in 2007 and that are considered to be among the best at helping companies retain their hard-earned profits:
Unified Communications. A Siemens Communications survey released Oct. 16 reports that communication delays—whether it’s waiting for information, lack of collaboration or missed phone calls—can cost an enterprise of 1,000 employees up to $13 million a year. Moving to a VOIP (voice over IP) infrastructure is the first step toward shaving those costs down and toward the vast improvements in corporatewide communication many companies are experiencing. With the ability to combine VOIP, instant messaging, e-mail, cell phones and PDAs into a system of real-time communication, efficiency improves and customer satisfaction rises. The concept is so hot that CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association) reports that two-thirds of businesses with separate voice and data networks recognize the business value of converged communications solutions, and 17 percent have already taken the plunge.
Virtualization. Virtualizing servers—a method of combining multiple servers and running them as a single unit—solves problems in the data center: namely, creating highly available servers, improving disaster recovery and consolidating redundant equipment. There’s plenty to consolidate, that’s for sure. According to IDC, businesses will spend $20 billion on server hardware between now and 2010. Sixty-eight percent of that will be spent on servers partitioned for virtualization; the number of virtual servers is expected to grow by 41 percent CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) over the same period. And it’s that consolidation that really saves money: By running systems on fewer servers, businesses reduce equipment and IT labor costs, as well as power and cooling costs. It’s not unheard of, for example, to virtualize 20 servers down to five. Other areas of cost savings include software license reductions in areas like anti-virus, backup and operating systems.
Outsourcing. A recent Thinkstrategies survey of 550 businesses found that one-third of companies making less than $50 million outsourced some aspect of their IT operations. By contrast, midsize and larger companies use managed services more and are more open to using them in the future, according to the study. But even companies with just a few hundred employees can benefit from offloading tasks, allowing them to focus on core business and removing maintenance and equipment costs. One area of potential outsourcing is IT services, in which a hired company offers unlimited technical support for a fixed cost. Another area is managed security services, in which a company handles every aspect of security for a company, from identity management and dealing with denial-of-service attacks to firewall services and managed desktop security. And, of course, there is always the increasingly popular SAAS (software-as-a-service) model.
Going green. The EPA estimates that data centers used 61 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2006 at a cost of $4.5 billion—a figure that represents 1.6 percent of all electricity used in the United States. Green-friendly activities like server virtualization, managing the power of office equipment and replacing CRT monitors with more energy-efficient displays also are great for the bottom line. A November 2007 IBM study, for example, titled “IBM Global Survey: Small Businesses, Energy Efficiency and Environmental Concern,” ranks energy as the biggest cost increase for companies with fewer than 500 employees. Although there are costs associated with going green, payback comes in under two years, experts say.
Looking outside. Sometimes admitting that you can’t do it all yourself can save real money. Hiring an external consultant to evaluate a company’s technology needs, for example, while not cost-free, can be well worth the price paid. The same goes for forging productive relationships with vendors. With a solid relationship in place, vendors can recommend more cost-effective options and often get better prices because of economies of scale than companies can by going solo.