The past couple of years have been hell on IT budgets. You’ve probably seen your budgets slashed, coworkers let go, and projects killed. And killed projects represent time and money wasted. Even if the project gets reinstated, the research and technology behind the project will have changed, and you’ll have to start over.

How can you get managers to approve and fund projects? First, forget technology. CFOs and CEOs don’t really care about technology. Sure, they want to be known as the folks who technically "get it" and use technology "strategically," but they’re happy if they just get their email 24 x 7. What they live and die for is profit. If you want to move forward, everything you do must be rooted in the bottom line. You must talk about Return on Investment (ROI). Of course you need to spend a little to save a lot, but you’d better have a 100 percent ROI in the same fiscal year. Otherwise, your project will end up on the back burner. With that in mind, let me give you my top five IT savings ideas:

  1. Consolidate business ISP costs. You can save some serious bucks by simply consolidating all your ISPs with one carrier. Carriers need the business these days, and they’ll give you increased, redundant throughput if you simply partner with them by giving them all your business. If you have ISPs across the globe, you can use services such as MASERGY Communications (http://www.masergy.com) to negotiate worldwide ISP contracts and manage the entire network from one screen. My company’s IT department improved its WAN throughput and reduced costs by 50 percent simply by consolidating the number of carriers from 12 to 1.
  2. Consolidate long-distance and cell-phone contracts. If you support multiple office locations and many telecommuters and you’ve let each office and each telecommuter negotiate separate phone contracts, you’re making a big mistake. You can save huge bucks by centrally managing this contract and service. Consolidating mobile phones requires some delicate negotiations with the user community. But in most cases, you’ll be able to increase their minutes of phone time and give them a newer phone.
  3. Centralize purchases of all high-tech gear. Most IT managers let high-tech gear purchases get out of hand by ignoring "nonsupported" devices (such as phones, PDAs, and home networking gear), pretending that these devices simply don’t exist. But 20 percent of your company’s employees have access to a credit card and manage to buy these items anyway. At conservative estimates, for every 1000 employees, your company is spending at least $250,000 per year on these devices. To rein in this spending, leverage your best asset—access to the corporate data. Pick a PDA that works well with the corporate email server. Executives will soon leave their laptops at the office and travel light, and they’ll always be available by email whether or not they’re traveling. The message to users is simple: If you want to keep up, get a PDA that IT supports. It works, it’s cool, and IT picks up the tab. You’ll win over more users with honey than vinegar.
  4. Standardize on a proven VPN solution and a global dial-up ISP. Supporting remote users is hard enough for Help desk workers without making them cope with too many variables. As with IT-supported PDAs, the carrot is access to the corporate network. Training, support, and authentication become much easier when all employees use the same technology. In addition, you can provide incentives such as videoconferencing and access to additional intranet applications. This solution saves ISP costs, training costs, and labor costs.
  5. Consolidate file servers. You probably have numerous file servers, each using about 20 to 90 percent of its storage capacity. According to META Group, you need one administrator for every 20 servers in your organization. If you could significantly reduce the number of file servers you administer—while improving performance, security, and scalability—you could save money by cutting staff and administration time. Microsoft has created a version of Windows 2000 specifically for dedicated file servers called Windows Powered Network Attached Storage (NAS). Microsoft’s partners created dedicated, high-end storage servers that provide all the file-serving features of Win2K—including clustering, security, Active Directory (AD) support, and backup—without the need for Client Access Licenses (CALs). If you have the opportunity to replace many general-purpose servers with a few dedicated NAS devices, you can increase your storage capacity, availability, and reliability, and you can save money on administration and licensing fees.

You can boil these suggestions down to one word: standardize. These projects have a quick payoff, letting you work toward your ultimate goal—doing more with less.