Big-bang project

Get more bang for your IT buck

Spurred by stretched-out budgets, IT managers want to get the most business bang for their IT buck. That means delivering bottom-line impact and business value as quickly as possible.

"Speed is competitive advantage" in 2007, says Rich Penkoski, a partner at Deloitte Consulting LLP in Atlanta. "It's very easy to lose organizational interest in programs that take extended periods of time. The market doesn't stand still. Competitors don't stand still."

The 252 respondents to Computerworld's quarterly Vital Signs trends survey said data management, anti­virus protection, e-mail/groupware, voice-over-IP (VOIP) and storage-area network projects yield the fastest payback. The technologies that respondents said produce the most visible payback were ERP, e-mail, Web services, data management, business intelligence, and wireless and mobile systems.

Many CIOs have seen these quick-fire results firsthand. They offer the following advice for getting big-bang projects queued up and done right and describe how they measured success.

FAST PAYBACK: VOIP projects

The Hickory, North Carolina, municipal government was tired of its old phone service. IT Director Jeff Brittain wanted to bring 21st century technology to city hall, which serves a community of 40,000 residents. He also wanted a system that was more manageable and offered better features for users. Knowing that there is steep competition in the telecommunications market, Brittain expected to get a good deal.

At the time, the city paid a monthly fee for phone service using its vendor's equipment. "We didn't own anything. We had to call them to make a change. They had full control of everything, and we were just a customer," Brittain explains.

By capitalizing on the city's existing infrastructure and vendor relationships, Brittain was able to implement a VOIP system in about six months, and he expects to recoup the city's US$165,000 investment in three years.

First, the city divided the request-for-proposals process into hardware and service bids. Brittain first invited a dozen hardware vendors to a group meeting where all prospective bidders could ask questions and hear the same answers. "That way, it was fair across the board," he says.

Once the RFPs were collected, the city looked at upfront costs, maintenance costs, knowledge transfer, training needs and infrastructure. Several years earlier, the city had recabled its old administrative building using Category 6 unshielded twisted-pair cabling. "It would support whatever we decided to do," Brittain says.

Brittain ultimately awarded the hardware contract to the vendor that had installed that cabling and other infrastructure, even though it hadn't submitted the lowest bid.

"The project went a little faster, and was a little cheaper, because we went with familiar hardware. The learning curve is also shorter," Brittain says. The project also moved quickly thanks to a requirement in the RFP for vendor engineers to help with installation and knowledge transfer as part of the package, he adds.

The city then bid out the service portion of the project and decided to stay with its existing phone company. "It was easier not to change. But [the company] significantly lowered our cost because they knew it was a competitive bid," Brittain explains.

THE PAYBACK: The combination of a new phone system and ownership of the hardware saves Hickory up to US$52,000 a year. When VOIP expands to the city's two libraries this spring, Brittain estimates it will save the municipality another US$7,000 to US$8,000 annually.

BRITTAIN'S ADVICE: If you're looking for a fast-payback project, you should rely heavily on existing partners who know your infrastructure and needs. "If it weren't for our [existing] partnership, I'm not sure we would've made that transition easily," Brittain says.

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