The expert view: 12 steps to regaining total control of your IT estate

Bringing your IT estate under control means understanding what you have in that estate, what it costs you and why you have it. Answering those questions is not necessarily straightforward.

A group of senior executives from a variety of industries came to a Business Reporter Breakfast Briefing at the Savoy Hotel in London to discuss those questions. The meeting was held under Chatham House rules but what follows is a summary of the discussion.

1. Make costs visible. It stands to reason that you can't control costs until you know what they are. Companies need to strategic about how they manage their IT estate, said Ben Mendoza, of event sponsors MDSL. That means gathering information category by category, rather than trying to assess the entire organisation at once - a task that will probably take so long that the information is outdated by the time it has been collected.

2. Understand the 'why'. Gathering costs is all very well but many organisations know what something costs but not why they have it in the first place. It might not appear to be in use but perhaps it's a vital backup service that must be there in case of emergencies or perhaps it was just forgotten about. Record why you are buying something when you buy and you can avoid this issue.

3. Understand the value you are getting. An expensive service might be providing value that you wouldn't get from a cheaper alternative. That's why approaching your IT estate simply from a cost-cutting standpoint might not be the best thing to do. If you know where your costs are and why you have them then you are already a long way towards understanding the value too.

4. Have a platform to track your costs. As you gather your information, you will need somewhere to put it. A spreadsheet won't be good enough. What you need is a system smart enough to automate future analysis. For example, examining your phone bills one call at a time is a task too time-consuming and tedious for a person but straightforward for a machine.

5. Target the areas with the most potential. Once you have gathered the information you need – what your costs are, why you have them and what value you are getting from them – you need to decide where to act. Focus on the areas where you can recover the most value.

6. Some departments will resist. Unless they can see an impact on their KPIs or incentives, some areas of your business will resist attempts to bring the IT estate under control. They won’t consider it to be a priority and so you need to drive the behaviours that you want to see. One approach suggested by attendees was to issue departments with a ‘statement’ of their costs, so that they understand where they can improve.

7. Decide what needs controlling. Some attendees argued that it can be counterproductive to try to get the entire business to follow your prescribed approach to managing the IT estate. Instead, it is better to decide what absolutely needs to be controlled and allow the business to make its own decisions for everything else.

8. Find champions in the business. Identify people within the business who can proactively capture data for you and be a model of best practice for their department. Attendees said this was more likely to succeed than trying to impose new behaviours from outside.

9. Think of it like parenting teenagers. The IT department needs to advise the business on how best to operate and not be too controlling. Think of it like parenting teenagers, said one attendee: they are going to experiment in lots of ways so it is better to provide a safe environment in which they can do so.

10. Beware shadow IT. Though some at the briefing said IT managers should not worry too much about shadow IT, others were more concerned – but not for the obvious reason. Staff turn to shadow IT to solve their own problems but their solution will probably not be compatible with the system chosen by the company and therefore will hinder collaboration.

11. Try before you buy. One attendee had adopted an innovative approach to keeping costs down by issuing staff with a trial version of software when they made a request. They almost never returned to ask for the full version when the trial was over.

12. Try self-certification. Another strategy for ongoing cost maintenance, suggested by another attendee, is to run quarterly self-certification exercises with each department. Send them a list of all the IT systems, devices and services that you think they are using and ask them whether the list is accurate, which, if any, are no longer required and what is missing.