Avoid These Cost-Cutting Traps

Episodic cost-cutting often undermines enterprise priorities, inadvertently or directly. Avoid these common traps and preserve funding for innovation and growth.

During financially unclear times, it may be tempting to look for cost savings, targeting first the big-ticket items in your budget, but these type of one-off cost-cutting initiatives are often bad business decisions. For example, laying off your most expensive talent can cut costs in the short term, but it reduces the core competencies of the organization, reducing the capabilities you need to fuel digital transformation effects.

Companies must consider value and risk when making cost-management decisions

“Pressure from an unstable and uncertain business and economic environment has led CIOs to embark, often blindly, on emergency cost-cutting programs,” says Cassio Dreyfuss, VP Analyst, Gartner. “But the savings can be less than satisfying, and the impacts on the business can be negative.”

Instead, companies must consider value and risk when making cost-management decisions, taking a cost optimization approach that aims to deliver long-term value and immediate spend efficiency.

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The reality, though, is that cost optimization often starts as an exercise in cost reduction, and cost pressures endure. GIven this reality, Gartner has established five cost-cutting traps IT leaders must avoid.

Trap No. 1: Be nice to everybody

Make business-blind, “politically correct” directives across the board.

Is your first solution to issue a linear cost-cutting directive across the entire business? The problem with this approach is that what one business unit can bear without major issues, for example, a total ban on overtime, might hamper a high-volume sales campaign in another department. Because value-add depends on a complex network of process steps, evaluate the entire value chain to understand how and where value is added and which parts can be reduced.

Trap No. 2: People are expensive and visible

Save on people (and eliminate skills and talent).

The more people laid off, the more money saved. The more people who are laid off, the more intense the negative effects on business initiatives, performance and outcomes. And layoffs mean it will later cost more time and money to restore the workforce. Ensure you maintain the critical minimum mass for resources and the minimum team to keep the business running, and use process design methodologies to assess minimum requirements for each process.

Trap No. 3: Focus on urgent problems and forget the rest

Sacrifice the future (nobody’s watching).

When it comes to saving money, it can be tempting to abandon long-term projects, processes or services in favor of more immediate, “plain vanilla” alternatives. However, it can be more challenging to derive business benefits from lower-cost replacements, and the company risks losing valuable business knowledge. Do not automatically sacrifice long-term initiatives just because they are long term. Assess the business value that will inevitably be lost.

Trap No. 4: It’s not my problem

Put the monkey on your business partners’ shoulders (and compromise your business network).

When looking for ways to cut costs, switching a business partner to a less-expensive alternative may seem like a good idea, particularly if the decrease in quality and efficiency has no immediate consequences. However, this type of switch will impact, on the other side, a partner who is also trying to cut corners, which will lead to problems down the road. There is no free lunch. Less-expensive partners means inferior services, which likely means less business value. Assess internal business risks that could result from a switch, and don’t forget to factor in the cost of switching, such as penalties from an existing contract.

Trap No. 5: It’s “every man for himself”

Focus on your little corner of the world (and damage your business, maybe irreparably).

Cost-cutting campaigns often approach the situation by focusing on individual areas or individual business initiatives, instead of evaluating the business as a whole. But it’s important to assess the business value and the business risk as they affect the entire business, and allow leaders to focus on the potential negative effects of proposed cost optimization initiatives.

Consider consequences such as damage to the brand, negative client perception, loss of critical resources or a sacrifice in terms of competitive positions. For each area or initiative, ask two questions:

  • What business value is being delivered by this business activity?
  • What business risk will ensue if cost optimization actions affect this activity?

This article has been updated from the original, published on October 13, 2016, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

To learn more about cost-cutting traps, Gartner clients can read the full report: Avoid Dangerous Cost-Cutting Traps, and Embrace Gartner's Cost Optimization Approach by Cassio Dreyfuss and Toolkit: Gartner's Top 100 IT Cost Optimization Ideas by Jim McGittigan, et al.

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