Why bean counters can't run the universe

Heeding the bean counters is a slippery slope. Columnist Cathy Hotka offers five ways you can save money on your own.

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Has budget season gotten you down? Have the bean counters driven you to distraction by cost-justifying every dime? I have some advice: It's time to let your foot off the gas. Here are some action items to become a "better" corporate citizen -- or at least satisfy the accounts payable department -- even though doing so might destroy your career.

Save the $500 you would have put on your expense report and stay home. You don't need to attend conferences and meet IT innovators from other companies when you can read about them for free in this magazine and others; that's the only contact you need. All that insider scuttlebutt at events is useful only for those who really want to make noise. Some would argue that industry events are beneficial because of the unexpected information you get in the hallway between sessions. And maybe there's something to be said for the unguarded conversation you could have with a noncompetitor who just completed a project that your company is about to start. But the colleagues you haven't met yet probably aren't smart, inventive or dedicated. And if they are, they're probably not willing to share the secrets of their success, anyway. Besides, your company's accounts payable department will diss you when you book a flight to that beautiful resort. Why take the heat for getting business value out of traveling to a to-die-for location?

Give your private branch exchange a rest. Don't even think about contacting peers in your industry or interesting strangers and inviting them to join you for pizza. Sure, you can reel them in, and they'll probably agree to a date with you. But that just takes time away from your busy schedule and the never-ending list of IT projects that everyone complains take too long. No matter that you might miss out on the ingenious low-cost ideas your peers have discovered to meet their corporate challenges. Your place is in the office.

Cross off one item at a time on your to-do list. Let's face it: You're gasping for air at your desk. Your workload is larger than ever, and IT continues to increase in prestige in your organization because there's real success to be gained from additional IT work. But it's easier to approach projects in a linear way, doing one thing at a time, until you complete each challenge. Multitasking is just another word for not finishing anything. So that Voice over Internet Protocol proposal goes to the bottom of the pile; you'll get to it after your enterprise resource planning upgrade. Just hope no one asks which project has a faster return.

Pay attention only to your industry. Your industry is unique, and there's nothing that someone from another industry can tell you. If you sell flowers and some other guy sells cars, there's no point in hearing about how he has used technology to sell cars better. Consider how much less reading you'll have to do, let alone travel.

Slow down on IT innovation. No business unit is a better champion of business innovation than IT. But you've got a lot on your plate, and maybe it's time to just ensure that the trains run on time. Disband that skunkworks project, and stop imagining what might be if you could create a cool new tool. Put an end to that water-cooler chatter about innovative ideas to grow the business. Now, don't you have some busywork -- filling out an expense report, perhaps -- to attend to?

Cathy Hotka is a principal at Cathy Hotka & Associates in Washington, D.C. Write to her at Podium@ciodecisions.com. This column originally appeared in the December 2005 issue of CIO Decisions magazine.

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