Decision Maker

Time Is Money... Right?

Being able to equate time to money is one of the most important business skills an IT manager can have. Here's some tips to help you do just that.

Everyone's fond of saying that "time is money," but few of us in IT tend to stop and really think about that. If you're an IT manager, though, really believing that time is money -- and, more importantly, being able to quantify it -- is perhaps your most valuable business skill.

Take a customer I recently worked with. Something I kept hearing from the company's administrators were these descriptions of how much manual effort went into nearly every daily task. Every week, one admin spent four hours going through Active Directory and making sure every server listed in the directory was also listed in the asset management system. Four hours.

I pointed out that there are several good tools on the market that can do it automatically in just a few minutes, and that even a couple of days cobbling together a Windows PowerShell script would eventually save a lot of time. In every single one of these instances, however, the admins made it clear that the company wouldn't buy any third-party tools, and that even getting them to set aside some time to script it in Windows PowerShell would be difficult. (Nobody in the organization had yet learned Windows PowerShell, so tasks would initially take longer due to the learning curve.)

When I pointed out that both tools and scripting should be considered investments, they all just smiled and nodded, and said they'd made that point themselves. The problem -- and you see this in a lot of organizations -- is that while management might say "time is money," it doesn't actually know how to quantify that statement. Too often, then, the only third-party management tools that get funded are those with some quantifiable return, such as tools that help maintain legal compliance.

Automate Tasks
The trick is for managers at all levels to really understand what a man-hour is worth. In the average U.S. company, there are approximately 2,000 working hours per year. If an administrator is earning $80,000 per year, then you're basically paying him $40 per hour. That's exclusive of things like taxes and benefits, which you're going to pay regardless of how productive he is.

Start looking at tasks that administrators do manually. Four hours a week to compare server names costs more than $8,000; if you can buy a tool for $500 that reduces that workload to a few minutes or fewer per week, then you've saved money. Of course, you also have to be able to answer the question, "What would we do with the time we've saved?" A smart manager will also maintain a list of projects that aren't being done simply because nobody has time to do them.

Justifying a scripting investment can pay off similarly. In the previous example, suppose it would take the admin an entire week to automate that server-comparison process. That's an investment of just $1,600. You'll recoup it in 10 weeks, for a net savings of more than $6,000 in the first year.

Measure Rewards
Tracking savings is also crucial. If you're able to invest some time to automate some repetitive task, you have to document it. This is often tough to get administrators to do, and it's one reason I always recommend that scripting never be done without the knowledge of the scripter's immediate manager. Not for micro-managing purposes, but for documentation. "Boss, I want to automate such-and-such using a script." "OK," the boss should say. "How much time does that take you now?" By documenting the time the task used to take, and tracking the amount of time spent writing the script, you'll be able to point right to the investment and the savings. Future efforts will gain more support from upper management once they see concrete success.

The smartest companies I know are making these kinds of investments a part of middle-management reviews, and even a part of employees' annual goals. It's all about knowing that time is money -- and knowing exactly how much.

About the Author

Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.

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