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It's Cow-Hunting Season Again

Last week we examined some staffing-related sacred cows – areas that should be looked at in the current fiscal crisis our institutions face. Many institutions are handling budget cuts of up to 30 percent. Even though the IT infrastructure is so important that it demands a portion of available dollars, we have an obligation to find ways to save money and increase efficiency – possibly eliminating some sacred cows in the process. This week we’ll look in areas less closely related to IT staffing.

Zero-based budgeting would be great in an ideal world, but we don’t live there. The fact is that many budget lines just don’t receive close annual scrutiny. Now that you’ve no doubt plucked some of the "low hanging fruit" to save money, maybe this is the time to look at some other areas.

One sacred cow that might go is user choice on hardware and software configurations. The money saved here will probably get spent anyway, on faster more powerful machines, but standardizing on Macs or PCs permits you to save on support costs and also to negotiate better deals on larger quantities. Standardizing on software has even greater efficiencies, especially if used with SAN storage space and clone clients for recovery from incidents.

Think about eliminating systems that use outmoded technologies. How many of us are still running huge modem pools and essentially being the ISP for folks off-campus? D'es that make sense if your faculty, staff, and students are all living in housing with cable modems? How big would the screams be if your modem pool disappeared?

For some outmoded equipment or systems you still need, you may be able to safely drop maintenance contracts and keep enough used parts around to do inexpensive repairs as – or if – needed. This requires thoughtful consideration and taking into account your staff’s abilities.

When making large purchases, why not partner with other institutions, either nearby or in purchasing consortiums that can be regional or even virtual. Internally, work to assist departments to make group purchases rather than independent ones. Larger buys get cheaper stuff – and you needn’t just work in collaboration with other colleges and universities, sometimes you can partner with a library or a township. Take the time to survey what discounts are waiting for you if you join a pre-existing consortium, such as NERCOMP.

Clearly define what support you offer students, faculty, and staff, then make it clear in written policies and stick to it. A recent series of hacks at Stanford required the wiping and rebuilding of 3,000+ machines. We hope that the Stanford IT staff didn’t spend time and resources doing those 3- to 4-hour rebuilds for machines they shouldn’t be supporting according to established policies.

When assisting in planning new programs, insist that a close look be taken at technology costs. Then make decisions based on costs, upkeep, support, and realistically anticipated enrollment (and revenue). Be ready to say "no" to a project that will cost you money but will not provide the dollars. Would that academic department create a new program and insist that someone else provide the building? (Well, maybe it would, but you can hang tough.)

These are just a few examples, but you should be surveying the sacred cows and taking advantage of the opportunity to carve up a few. Take a look for some on your campus as you think of savings in the following general ways:

- Reducing staff costs
- Reducing workload
- Reducing purchase or maintenance costs
- Deferring or delaying plan implementations
- Simplifying systems
- Increasing productivity
- Learning to say "no"

One final sacred cow is "budget dust." If you take a close monthly look at expenses, budget line by budget line, you might be able to identify areas where the major expenditures occur toward the end of your fiscal year. In some cases, those are seasonal expenditures. Occasionally you will find a plump sacred cow sitting there – a budget line that is really not needed but which is spent as budget dust in the last weeks of the budget calendar. Turn that sacred cow into steak!

About the Author

About the author: Terry Calhoun is Director of Communications and Publications for the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP). You can contact him through CT's IT Trends forum by clicking here. View more articles by Terry Calhoun.

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