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Can we do more with less?

The answer is yes as long as renewed attention is paid to outsourcing, training and process improvement.

September 1, 2004  

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As 2005 approaches, it’s time to contemplate the state of a continuously growing trend in networking.

Even though for the most part today’s economy appears to be improving, businesses still hold the perception that they need to do more with less.

While this makes sense in theory, it does pose a problem as companies get leaner than ever. We’re now at the point where we have to do more than just economize — we have to cut corners we never had to before.

After many months of cost saving measures, there are in fact few areas left to look for these precious gains.

There are some key trends that remain strong in this battle of the budgets: outsourcing, training and process improvement.

Outsourcing: Economics have been a key driver behind the continued adoption of outsourcing.

Many have found that it costs less to outsource selected non-core business activities — and because of its complexity and skill requirements, network maintenance has been one of them.

While the outsourcing debate makes sense, it is not a perfect science. Managers still need to take a very close look at the measures to be taken and how to optimize resources.

Hidden drawbacks

For example, on closer examination, they may find that the outsourcing agreement may save up-front costs, but also generates a number of hidden economic drawbacks that can negatively impact productivity.

They may find it better to strike a balance between in-sourcing and outsourcing as a means to save costs while enhancing productivity.

Businesses are learning. Over time, managers have become more knowledgeable about the real economic impact of outsourcing. In fact, many have come to accept that their networks are more than an IT department, but also a critical piece of their business strategy and are treating them accordingly.

Training: With the rapid changes in networking and communication technology, adequate training is especially important.

In today’s environments, a network technician must be a jack of all trades, often taking on more responsibility beyond his or her area of specialization. A junior technician may be ill-equipped to install and terminate Cat 6 cable, where there is a steep learning curve.

Explore new methods

This challenge is not limited to junior technicians. Those who are primarily responsible for copper UTP installs don’t necessarily have the experience to work with new fibre cabling systems.

In order to maximize resources therefore, it is critical that business and industry spend adequate time and investment to properly train technical staff on installation and testing of new technologies.

Inadequately trained technicians can easily cost an organization thousands of dollars in rework — through no fault of their own.

Process improvement: In our rush to complete networking tasks, we often lose focus on the details of the process.

While we often say something can be done in a more efficient manner, we rarely put the time and effort into implementing a process improvement strategy.

In order to move forward and get to the “more with less” goal, process improvement — including change — is a necessary requirement.

One clear example of how process improvement can be quantified is network testing. If one can save time on testing networks and cabling systems by using new or automated methods, they can significantly reduce the time spent on a particular task. Reducing the time per task then allows one to start a next task sooner. The sooner another task can be taken on, the more can be accomplished in a day.

Be vigilant

While we have always been conscious of time spent on tasks, we need to be more vigilant than ever.

Extra effort must be put into researching and understanding what process improvements can be implemented now, what we can achieve in the future and how those measures will deliver the most beneficial impact on our business.

With corporations still traveling the downsizing road, it is apparent we need to carry on in our quest to do more with less. As staffing, time spent and resources used continue to come under pressure, it is imperative to clearly understand the available ways we can address the balance.

A renewed attention to the issues of outsourcing, training and process improvement will be key to survival as we move forward to 2005.

Brad Masterson is Canadian Product Manager for Fluke Networks and a member of CNS Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board.. He has been involved in the field of networking and network testing since 1995.