But here's a potential cash saver that IT managers might have overlooked: passwords.
It sounds mundane, but helping employees remember their passwords can save serious dollars. Take Cummins Inc., a Columbus, Ind., maker of commercial diesel engines, trucks, power plant equipment, and other products. The company's 28,000 employees generated more than $6.6 billion in corporate revenue last year.
But those same employees -- located in more than 50 manufacturing, research, distribution, and sales facilities on six continents -- also keep 20 staffers at a Cummins call center hopping. The help desk staff fields more than 20,000 employee calls a month, and about half of those are from workers who need to reset their passwords.
The analyst firm Gartner Group has estimated that every employee help desk call costs a company on average $20 in direct costs and lost productivity. That sounds expensive, but Chris Price, Cummins' computing services director, said internal company estimates came "real close" to the $20 figure. Multiply that by 10,000 password-related calls a month, and you total $2.4 million a year -- not exactly chump change.
When Cummins was looking a few years ago to save IT help desk expenses, Price said, buying a password management system provided "the single biggest bang for our buck." After shopping, Cummins decided on Courion Corp., a privately held, 5-year-old Framingham, Mass., company that sells password software to more than 60 Fortune 1000 companies.
Cummins went with Courion's PasswordCourier for two main reasons, Price said. First, though other password management products had been on the market longer, PasswordCourier integrated fully with Cummins' existing help desk software tool, called Remedy. Second, the young company charged a flat rate, as opposed to products by Tivoli and Computer Associates that charged a more expensive per-seat price.
With PasswordCourier, Cummins users can reset or change their own passwords on any software platform or application throughout the corporation's heterogeneous computing environment, which includes a mainframe, UNIX, WindowsNT, an e-mail system, and dozens of applications such as Lotus Notes. A typical account will have at least three passwords (mainframe, Notes, and e-mail), with engineers adding local area network and other application passwords.
Cummins has a self-serve Web site to route calls away from the expensive help desk. But that corporate intranet also requires a password, and so the calls continue to come in. PasswordCourier allows operators to gain access to employee without supervisory access privileges, thereby cutting the risk of a security breach. The operators ask questions to verify the employees' identities, then remind them of their passwords. The process typically takes seconds, and it can be audited.
It's taken a couple of years to install the PasswordCourier system throughout the corporation, a process Price said was related to "internal politics. The technology has never been the issue. We had to fight with the security team to get the system deployed, since they had valid security concerns. It took a lot of time to get our ducks in a row with (human resources), to get access to validate all employee IDs, and hide sensitive information in the appropriate places.
"It's been a long education process," he continued. "But we built a team, developed a consensus, and ran pilot projects. Our doubt has been whether people will use the system. But so far we've been spot on with our projections, and the signs are encouraging."
Price said it's hard to put a precise number on the savings Cummins has enjoyed. The company outsources its help desk to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary, paying a per-operator charge. Cummins is renegotiating its help desk contract with the expectation that it will hire fewer operators.
"These kind of numbers are difficult to quantify," Price said. "Lower help desk costs are not what a CFO defines as 'added value.'" But combined with the saved productivity on shorter help calls, he said, "We're pretty confident that we're already in the high six-digit range" on savings.
Cummins was one of Courion's early customers, and, as Price diplomatically put it, "We had the opportunity to identify and work through defects in the product." But, he added, "They could always turn their patches around in two weeks. And they were very helpful with technical guidance. They set up conference calls with engineers and technical people, not just sales and marketing staff. Quite honestly, they're one of our better suppliers to work with."
Cummins has for some time been planning an upgrade to another Courion product, ProfileBuilder, which would allow users to register and update their own profiles and passwords without a help desk call. The Web interface lets users enter or change personal data, including user-defined password prompts.
Price said the slowing economy, which has led Cummins to recently lay off workers, has stalled the upgrade. But when the economy swings back, he expects the company to complete the purchase -- and to multiply its password time and dollar savings.