When companies look to cut $1 million from their IT budgets, they might
first consider delaying a hardware or software purchase.
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
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
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
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.