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This is among the toughest years this decade. It started with the US sub-prime financial crash, it squeezed cash out of the system, went on to hit India's exports, and trickled down into the domestic market in the last quarter of '08.

The business reaction is to conserve cash, cut expenses, cut back on non-essential spend, hold back new projects. Not the best strategy, but common.

A very few use a slowdown to grow, gain market share, invest, and set the base for when the market will pick up again, as it will, probably this year.

Let's see if we can take a page from their books, the contrarians who invest when others cut back.

For those who manage tech in enterprises, a question: Beyond 'keeping the lights on', what can you do in these tough times to help the company grow, get more productive, save money? If I or my people have time on their hands, how can we use it best?

Time on your hands? Use it This could be a time when major projects are held back, or delayed, leaving you with spare time. What an opportunity to go beyond your defined box of areas, to measure leakages and assess the impact of improved systems, to put together and present how just much you can help improve, or save.

Utilize idle resources: Spot any colleagues who have more spare time now? Draft them on to help you with the project: to measure, identify, research. You'd be surprised by how much people can do when they feel motivated about doing something useful with their time, especially on a 'new project' with visible gains.

Find three areas where tech can help: Have you explored the usual ones-such as conferencing instead of travel? Measured the use of low-cost alternatives? Is your VoIP system being used enough? Can a small scale route-planning application cut taxi bills by 50%?

Prasanto K Roy is president and chief editor, ICT
Publications, at CyberMedia

Use the opportunity to push what you couldn't earlier: An IT manager tried for years to bring in CRM, stuck in a debate on integration with other apps. But last month, after Sales lost an order because they were too slow, he was able to jump past the baggage and take a 'temporary' decision to go for an online-delivered CRM, by painting a clear picture of productivity gains, and by getting a great price (he negotiated hard and linked a fifth of project cost to timeline and gains).

Push productivity: Take time out to measure things that may have not been measured before. Time per sale for individual salespeople, sales call per person, outstanding receivables per person, travel cost per employee-trip, power consumed per department... then pick three areas where there can be big improvement, or the top five people who need to pull up, and present your data. Can tech help?

Save energy: This should be your top project-measure wastage, identify three areas where investment will bring savings within a six-month period. And not just in IT. Will changing or opening shutters and curtains help you kill half the lights on each floor? Can you consolidate night-time IT services on just one server so that in a power outage at night, the UPS alone will suffice, and the generators don't need to kick in? Can you measure 'idle power' cost on holidays?

We've entered a slowdown. Treat it as an opportunity-to help your company, and to expand your role and influence beyond 'keeping the lights going'.

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