The current economic climate has forced most CIOs to redesign their IT organisations in an effort to reduce costs. And, whether they're shooting for a svelte, wiry, emaciated or lean organisation, there are a number of common roles that senior IT people say are critical to this goal.

Forrester's January 2009 Global IT Budget Priority Online Survey shows that six cost-reduction actions rose to the top for 2009. These were activities that more than 60 per cent of respondents reported they were either planning or considering.

Taking these actions requires CIO leadership and oversight and the coordination of many roles in IT. However, these actions demand a set of critical roles that must have the authority, scope, and focus to drive the activity. These roles exist as dedicated functions in medium and large shops and as part-time roles in small shops.

Key roles in reducing costs

The first requires planners to assess the IT structure. CIOs must lead the assessment of their shops to determine the efficiency of their structures, processes, and culture. Relationship managers (RMs) must provide the business interface to ensure that the new structure is in sync with business priorities. Planners must treat this as another high-impact project and ensure that it receives sufficient resources.

Another important step is adjusting portfolios. This is important because changing priorities to reduce costs requires business compromises. RMs must make the case for these changes while simultaneously speaking on behalf of the business units they support. In addition, planners need to adjust their tools and techniques to increase the importance of cost-saving activities.

Retiring legacy systems is the next valuable cost saving action. Legacy system selection, retirement strategy, and oversight for execution are the responsibility of architects. Vendor managers have a less critical role but must work with vendors to ensure any changes can be supported by the vendors and that contractual obligations are either met or renegotiated. RMs ensure that legacy system changes do not endanger critical business operations.

It is important to invest in automation technologies. Many low-level functions such as software distribution and password resets can be automated with modern tools, and some can be run by end users with little IT support. Architects need to ensure that automation projects and technologies are consistent with standards and the technology direction of the organisation. Much of the execution of automation projects will be done within apps and infrastructure organisations.

Planners must also assess service levels. Demand management must work with RMs to determine which service cuts will result in the greatest gain and least pain. RMs again must negotiate compromises with business leaders. Vendor management is involved if vendors are either providing the services or will pick up service support through some form of outsourcing.

And, finally, it may help to increase business leader involvement in investment decisions. Relationship managers, in conjunction with the CIO, must ensure that business leaders understand the implications of their decisions for IT and participate in prioritising cuts. IT must provide the proper information and decision-making framework for the business to make these calls.

These groups balance long versus short and global versus local needs when cutbacks are required. Ironically, because they're not directly building or maintaining IT systems, they themselves are often targets of budget cuts. Making it worse for these people is that they are more effective when full time on this role.

When dedicated to these functions, retaining people in these roles is less defensible to people outside the IT shop - so be prepared to make the case for retaining these roles.