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How to balance maintenance and IT innovation

Minda Zetlin | Oct. 22, 2013
Many IT leaders admit their spending is too heavily weighted toward keep-the-lights-on projects. Here's how to tip the balance.

Selling Your Vision
Marketing your ideas for taming keep-the-lights-on costs, both within IT and to the company at large, is an important step. Indeed, as Analog Devices went through the painful process of recovering from layoffs and then bringing its technology up to date, Forte used a simple phrase to tell both his IT colleagues and Analog executives what the team was up to: "Shrink the footprint, shift the balance [from keep-the-lights-on toward innovation], optimize services."

"The importance of communication can't be overstated," he says. That was especially true when he took over as CIO in 2009. At the time, customer satisfaction with IT was low. "I kept telling people, 'Hang in there, we'll get things in order,'" Forte recalls. "I spent time with every vice president in the company, telling the same story: Shrink, shift, optimize."

By staying relentlessly on message, Forte gave both the business and his IT group a good grasp of the priorities and what still needed to be done. "I was giving a talk at a local college about business-IT alignment," he says. "I said, 'You can walk up to anyone who works in IT at Analog Devices, ask them what the three most important initiatives are for IT, and you'll get the same answer.'" One student happened to have a friend working at Analog, so she called her friend to test Forte's assertion. Sure enough, when asked for the top priorities, the student's friend answered, "Shrink, shift, optimize."

Still, though you may have a grand vision for bringing down keep-the-lights-on expenses, Leeper advises starting out with small steps. "You'll never get anywhere if you try to do it all at once," he says. But it's important to start somewhere. "Pretty soon, you begin accomplishing little upgrades with little payoffs," he says. "And then one day you'll look around and think: 'Hey, I did it all.'"


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