For those companies out there who are not employing the "ostrich strategy" and are thinking in terms of longer than 12 months, there are some real opportunities which may be worthwhile to consider, outside of just cost reduction or revenue protection objectives. In fact, it would likely be a good time to take a moment and re-discover what your business value drivers really are. Keep in mind that selecting projects or otherwise making decisions with the center of gravity being "reduce cost", "improve profit" are really only effects; these are not projects in and of themselves. The only way you can ensure you are chasing the right possibilities is by understanding the company's value-drivers and the "what, which, and how much" of each; find the game changers in essence. Those things which can not only help in the short-term but catapult a company over the long term (+12 months) to be more competitive, more profitable and deliver better to what your customers actually want.
Some of the really potent game changers that you may want to consider pursuing in a downturn would be in designing new processes or products, reducing operational complexity, and certainly doing work to understand what your customer's (former and current) and your competitors customers are really seeking from your organization.
Designing new processes or products/services in a downturn is a great way to employ your assets and since you likely will have cut in other areas, put your money back to work for the future. Business process management methods and tools can help accelerate time-to-market and just as important validate that?you are delivering solutions that will truly matter. Getting something out there fast is good but not if nobody wants it or cares. There is a very prescriptive way to generate these new designs and equally important process-centric tools which will help create a foundation to actually sustain these innovations.
Reduce complexity, not just reduce your workforce. "We just need to do more with less", for some organizations they seem to believe that the laws of physics can be defied in their conference rooms. The rest of the universe is at the mercy of said laws, but not the organization. If we assume your company is a tad more realistic, then now is absolutely the time to refactor areas of the business.
Here is a great area to look at first: in most businesses there is the notion of sales configuration and there is the back-office functions to support or fulfill those various customer order permutations.? A lot of businesses try to make the back office support functions more efficient (read: "cheaper") and they do this through automation, consolidation, etc.? As we all know, this is a never ending fight....never ending. One option here is to begin to rationalize those order configurations with the support functions. In almost all cases they are decoupled from one another and that is a problem. Until that notion is embraced, you'll just be bailing water forever. Again, now is the time to use resources to see what can be done to harmonize these functions, this will promote process flow; and flow is exactly what we need in core processes.
Another area is doing work to get better intelligence in what current, former, and potential customers are really after. Too much of the time reactive data alone ?is used to make decisions on what a company needs to improve on or even offer as a good or service. Reactive data is data the company doesn't seek out. Proactive data is information that the company solicits from its customer and prospect base. If you do not have a solid voice of customer program that addresses aggregation of both reactive and proactive data, strong analysis capability of that data, and the right vehicles to get that information transformed into projects, then again now would definitely be the time to invest.
Any rate, these are a few examples of some game changing initiatives that could really provide a platform for future capability that can be had much cheaper than when the organization is operating at capacity. Think of this as a hedge, once the volume turns up again in the business how fast will you be able to respond, compete, lead? Chances are you have cut deep, and recouping that prior organizational capability is going to lag significantly; longer than the downturn lasted as a certainty.