10 Ways to Quickly Reduce IT Costs

CIOs can follow these 10 rules when faced with the need to cut IT budgets quickly.

It’s often said that “you can’t cut your way to growth,” but you can cut your way to survival. From natural disasters and terrorist attacks to a tanking economy or an aggressive new competitor, there are many reasons why an organization may need to make immediate cost savings simply to stay in business.

Gartner recommends taking a structured and ongoing approach to cost optimization. Research shows that organizations that continue to invest strategically in tough times are more likely to emerge as winners. But sometimes, difficult times call for difficult actions.

Cutting or stopping projects or services where costs have already been spent or incurred are of limited value

“When faced with the challenge of immediate cost savings, CIOs need to determine how to approach cost cutting in the least damaging way to the mid- and long-term health of the business,” says Chris Ganly, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. “Define the consequences and risks of cutting costs and communicate them to stakeholders, despite the urgency and likely short lead time.”

Cutting or stopping projects or services where costs have already been spent or incurred are of limited value. Cutting things that can’t be restarted, that have already been invested in or are ready to deliver will hurt when the organization is ready to accelerate again.

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10 rules for rapid IT cost reduction

Assess your IT cost reduction options with these rules in mind. 

  1. Target immediate impact. Eliminate, reduce or suspend items that will impact in one, six or even nine months, not in years. Examples include expenses that are incurred and paid monthly or quarterly on a “pay as you go” basis, rather than annually.
  2. Reduce, don’t freeze. Focus on costs that can truly be reduced or eliminated, not just frozen for the current period, only to reappear again further down the line.
  3. Cash is king. Target those items that will have a real cash impact on the profit and loss statement rather than noncash items like depreciation or amortization. For example, cost savings in cloud services have a real cash impact, as opposed to reducing on-premises software licenses or owned assets like hardware. Selling and leasing back assets can provide real cash savings as well.
  4. Target unspent and uncommitted expenses. Unless payments (or commitments) can be recovered or prepayments returned the most immediate impact will be on unspent or uncommitted payments. Evaluate contracts for renegotiation and termination clauses.
  5. Address opex and capex. Typically, operating expenditures (opex) are the easiest to impact, but capital expenditures (capex) can also be reduced. Gartner’s IT Key Metrics Data shows that 25% of the average IT budget is spent on capital, so ensure that the complete range of IT spend is considered for rapid reductions.
  6. Plan to do it once. Most organizations don’t cut deeply enough the first time, which means they often need to revisit costs and do it again. This creates a destructive and unproductive cycle of uncertainty, effort and lost productivity. This is particularly relevant for staff cuts, where cycles of ongoing reductions can be especially dangerous.
  7. Consider sunk costs. When it comes to saving money, it is commonly said that “sunk costs are irrelevant,” meaning that future spend should be considered without relation to past spending or “sunk costs.” From a rapid cost reduction standpoint this is true, but it’s still worth considering whether the saving will be more than the benefit that can and will be delivered by continuing.
  8. Address discretionary and nondiscretionary cost. Discretionary spending, such as for new projects, additional capability or services, is often a seemingly easier place to cut. However, even nondiscretionary “run the business” expenses such as IT infrastructure and operations can be cut by reducing usage or service levels.
  9. Tackle both variable and fixed costs. Fixed costs are expenses that remain constant, regardless of activity or volume, such as office rent, subscriptions and payroll. For fixed costs, focus on elimination. Variable costs change with activity or volume, for example, telecommunications, contractors and consumables. For variable costs, focus on both reduction and elimination.
  10. Inspect accounts. Work with your finance partner to obtain a solid view of the expense level detail, such as expense accounts, and the key balance sheet accounts, including expense accruals and prepayments. Use this view to identify specific cash reductions that will immediately have an impact.

Gartner clients can read more in 10 Rules for Rapid IT Spend Reduction by Chris Ganly et al.

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