Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Austerity Brings Efficiency

There are many reasons to bemoan the bursting of the real estate bubble, the crash of the banking system, and the U.S. recession. But there will be benefits from this mess as there always are when we enter this phase of an economic cycle. Businesses based on euphoria are not good businesses in the long run. We will witness the disappearance of many businesses based on hype rather than delivering real value to their customers. Surviving businesses will find new ways to make their operations more efficient and effective.

Government will also benefit from austerity by being forced to prioritize and to become more efficient. Programs will be cancelled, and those that survive will learn to survive with reduced funding. Although government agencies themselves rarely face extinction in the way that businesses do, they will be reorganized. Elected officials, on the other hand, know that they could be one election away from spending more time with their families.

How can government agencies save money, particularly in information technology?
  1. Use what you already own. Check your hardware and software inventory. You may find that you own licenses for products you have not rolled out into production. Be careful not to purchase new software that duplicates functions of products you already own.
  2. Get people trained. Hardware and software can't help you if people don't know how to use them. Most of the time we use only a fraction of the features in the products we think we know. Sometimes I will sit with a super-user and just watch how they interact with a product. I usually come away with several ideas to make me more productive.
  3. Streamline your business processes. Take a hard look at bottlenecks in your processes. Are they necessary? Could you take a shorter path to your destination?
  4. Be strategic. What is your core mission? Do your projects and initiatives help you achieve it? If what you are doing strays too far from your mission, you will find your agency adrift.

I'm going to stop here for now, because these are plenty. It's far better to finish the projects you have than to start new ones you won't finish.

Austerity can clear the mind and strengthen the body. With greater focus, you are more likely to achieve your goals. These principles are no less true for government than they are in your personal life.

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