Five fabulous New Year’s resolutions for tech professionals

As you fill out the last page in your 2008 agenda and rip the cellophane and price tags off your new leather-bound replacement or palm-sized digital upgrade, it’s also time to consider what changes you’d like to introduce in your company in 2009.

With the current economic downturn, many budgets will be shrinking and cutbacks could affect productivity and output.

However, there are many practical ways knowledge workers can resolve to do more with less.  

 Resolution 1: Go green

The first New Year’s resolution all professionals should seriously ponder is how to reduce their carbon footprint and extend their company’s “green” footprint.

Over the past year, many firms, including HP and IBM, focused on making more energy-efficient hardware – and these products could make a big difference when looking to cut back on office expenditure.
Many vendors offer tools that can reduce redundancies in your office.

Using virtualization technology to cut back on the number of servers is also something to seriously consider.

(Want to find out more about green solutions? Check out our related story and slideshow on CDN’s Top 5 Green Solution Providers).

Every company and department have a “green champion” who can create change at a personal level, says Anna Jaeger, director of TechSoup Global’s GreenTech Initiative. 

TechSoup focuses on products and services that meet the needs of non-profit groups the world over.  

“A lot of managers [believe] green strategies are costly but that’s not the case,” said Jaeger. “You need one person to look at all options available, pick a couple and start tracking the economic gains made by making more environmentally-friendly choices.”

Jaeger offers five tips for making 2009 greener and recommends professionals choose one or two, rather than become overwhelmed.

She says the easiest way to reduce a company’s carbon footprint this year is to allow staff to telecommute. 

Telecommuting provides the biggest green benefit because it puts fewer cars on the road and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide going into the air each day.

Workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting in rush hour traffic, which adds up to  3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas, according to a report by Morristown, N.J.-based DataMotion Inc.   

A telecommuting strategy, supported by efficient technology, can improve productivity levels by reducing travel time, and also saves money on office equipment.

Virtualizing your company’s servers will also save money and energy by lowering purchasing and maintenance costs, Jaeger said. Fewer servers mean less power and lower energy bills.

Jaeger recommends looking for a green host provider.

“Ask them if they use a form of alternative energy, such as solar or wind power. Or find out if they are purchasing carbon offsets,” she said.  “Adaptive power, which spins servers up and down as needed based on demand, are also great for avoiding waste.”

Thin clients and “dumb terminals” also help reduce energy and costs, the TechSoup exec said.

All major processing can be done on a central server, thereby substantially reducing the number of networks needed in an office.

This is an especially good option if there are several telecommuters, who want to travel with a dumb terminal for increased security.

And there are other benefits to thin clients.

They use less power and don’t require a hard-drive or a fan to keep them cool, Jaeger noted. “There are far fewer components to be built, shipped and disposed of.”

Jaeger also recommends purchasing older, refurbished computers to use as “dumb terminals” in the office to save money and prevent more hardware from ending up in landfills.

Finally, simple changes such as installing projectors in conference rooms will reduce the need for paper.

“People love having paper in their hands but offices need to move away from this thinking and only print when necessary.”

Reduced paper consumption will also mean fewer printers and reduced maintenance costs in the future. Electronic fax Web sites can also reduce the need for fax machines. MyFax allows individuals to receive faxes electronically.

Resolution 2: Be more productive

Sending documents to your personal e-mail rather than a company-wide fax machine may also increase productivity and office efficiency.

Kelly Mackin, chief operating officer and president of DataMotion, says companies need to become more efficient in 2009 and move “from product to productivity.”

She recommends that professionals look for offerings where intelligence is integrated into programs, without the need for human intervention, such as e-mail organization.

The average employee spends 847 out of 2,000 hours in a work year using e-mail, but many of those hours are spent searching through archives, tracking e-mails or transferring files. Automating these processes can improve productivity and ROI, Mackin said.

Introducing cloud computing in the office could also increase  ROI and boost office productivity next year, Mackin says, because you only pay for what you use.

Purchasing software for an entire office may call for a lot of capital investment upfront.

“In 2009, you can improve productivity in three weeks instead of starting an expensive project and having nothing to show for it until September.”

Other inexpensive software-as-a-service options can improve productivity of employees with individual needs.

For instance, if you do large file transfers every once in a while, there are programs you can access on an “as needed” basis, without purchasing the license to own.

Resolution 3: Improve security

2008 was a productive year for cybercriminals with threats becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect. Malware popped up on legitimate Web sites across the world, from retail sites to news organizations’ pages.

One of the biggest risks facing the corporate world in 2009 has to do with data breaches.

From laptop theft to hacking scams, companies face the dire prospect of internal documents being hacked into and then broadcast on the Internet.

And this could include personal information of customers.

A DataMotion and Osterman Research study revealed 27 per cent of 205 organizations experienced accidental or malicious data leaks in 2008.

The proliferation of telecom and portable communication devices will likely see this number increase in the future.

There are many ways businesses can boost data and device security.

These include implementing a dumb terminal solution (which ensures employees don’t carry critical data around with them), to data encryption, (which safeguards sensitive data automatically).

Securing the company’s communications is another way of lowering risk, said Mackin.

There are approximately 4.7 terabytes of e-mail data for every 1,000 employees in a company that could pose a danger if not properly locked down. E-mail is a critical tool for doing business but much of it is not secure.

Creating a security code of conduct is another useful practice, as it ensures all employees are on the same page about what they should be looking at while at work, and what they can do if a data breach does occur.

Resolution 4: Focus on training

Educating employees and advancing their knowledge throughout 2009 is also vital for keeping staff up to date.  

But training is taking a back seat to other priorities, a survey of more than 270 chief financial officers across Canada reveals.

The poll was conducted by Menlo Park, Calif.-based Accounttemps, a specialized staffing service for accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals.   

Fourteen per cent of chief financial officers polled said they don’t expect to offer training in the next two years, and those planning to do so said they will focus on IT skills development.

Ashleigh Demulder, branch manager at the Calgary suburban ops, says professional development is key to retaining top performers.

Many offices may be tempted to eliminate training budgets during the economic recession, but investing in staff should be an ongoing priority.

To stay competitive and retain top talent throughout the next year, IT professionals should be thinking of new ways to keep their staff motivated.

Demulder recommends exploring e-learning options, learning at brown-bag lunch sessions or peer mentoring. Introducing a tuition reimbursement program may also be cheaper than sending your employees to a corporate conference for the weekend.

“And individuals should be thinking of upgrading their skills on their own time,” as well, Demulder said.  

The onus should be on candidates to update skills or to seek assistance from colleagues who may have something to share.

Resolution 5: Try something new

Finally, trying out something new is the best way to challenge yourself and discover a new strategy for improvement in the New Year. If everything you tried in 2008 failed, don’t force those same resolutions on yourself again.

Exploring new marketing options such as e-mail campaigns with embedded podcasts or writing about your company’s happenings on Twitter, can widely publicize your brand can have a great effect on ROI in 2009.

Luc Vezina, head of marketing at Montreal-based Campaigner,  a software-as-a-service e-mail marketing firm, says firms can use many new marketing technologies to improve business and ROI in 2009.

Working remotely or introducing a cloud computing solution could boost productivity and decrease costs Vezina said.

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