Managing IT in a Tight Economy

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles

© 2009 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes Magazine

The economy has taken a serious downturn, and it’s affecting church and ministry budgets.  Many are looking for wise effective ways to cut expenses.  What can you do to keep your computer system stability and reliability growing when finances are tight?

It’s true of churches and ministries just like it is everywhere else: when budgets are growing, spending is less prudent.  That’s not a judgment on our stewardship; we’re just focusing on tasks that can keep us from being able to look for the best economic strategy.  The good news is that in this tight economy there are some ways we can reevaluate IT expenses without cutting quality, reliability, or impact.  In fact, what I’ll suggest may actually improve your IT quality and reliability!

Hardware
While re-examining hardware strategies, ask, “Are we making hardware decisions that increase our overall IT costs without providing additional benefits?”  Here are some areas where this challenge may save you money:

  • Churches and ministries often receive donations of used computers equipment.  We need to be sincerely grateful, but using that equipment might be costly!  Consider the following:
    • Donors rarely buy new equipment to give us.  Rather, they usually donate equipment they are replacing or want to get rid of.  If it can’t serve them well, why do we feel we need to make it serve our teams?
    • Used equipment is almost always out of warranty, making us support failing components.  Bad motherboards, crashing hard drives, etc take time to support, and the cost to do so includes parts, personnel, and vendors.  Also, deploying used hardware usually means lower team productivity (because they’re older, slower systems).  The cost of using donated equipment is high.
  • Today’s networks require many servers to run at peak efficiency and reliability.  Each server is expensive to buy and support, and each uses a bunch of electricity.  Technology exists that allows them to be optimized, and it is mature and often free!
  • The concept of “virtual servers” is still new to most.  The best way to picture it is to think about partitioning a hard drive.  When you do so, it looks like you have multiple drives; but physically you only have one.  Virtualizing a server is very similar in that you configure the computer to “partition” it’s processing, communicating, and memory.  In effect, the computer you once called a server becomes a host for multiple servers!  This is a very efficient way to organize a network.
  • There are a few publishers of software that allows a computer to become a server host.  Though very large ministries may need the expensive versions, most are able to do all they need with the free versions!  Our favorite producer of this variety of software, called hypervisors, is VMware (www.vmware.com).  They have been doing it the longest and their software works very well.  Microsoft is now in its second generation of its hypervisor software and may eventually rule the niche… but VMware is the best solution for now.
  • The benefit of virtualizing can be a significant reduction in the number of physical servers, which means less spent buying equipment.  Fewer physical servers also means less electricity consumption, making your ministry more green.  And a bonus is that it dramatically improves your disaster recovery/ business continuity plan!

Outsourcing
IT expertise is expensive to hire because we’re competing with corporations.  Many churches and ministries have been moving their top IT positions to outsource firms because it saves money. This makes even more sense in a tight economy.

  • What about using volunteers who’ve lost their jobs?  This rarely produces hoped-for results.  They will keep looking for new jobs and, once hired, will need to be replaced.  And each that comes in to help will bring their own strategy, which puts your team in a constant state of flux.
  • Should we outsource the entire department?  Unless you are a smaller ministry staff, probably not.  Consider only outsourcing the higher level IT staff (strategy and implementation).  Then you’re able to hire help desk people without that higher-level experience; and their salary will likely be lower.  It also makes the organization less vulnerable to employee turnover, injecting a high level of stability to the system.

These strategies of reducing support costs, the number of servers, and outsourcing more expensive IT staff are “rightsizing”— the process of eliminating costs and getting them to a level that’s appropriate for your organization.  They may be one reason why you hear at the end the journey, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25:21 NIV)

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