IT budget concerns: Getting your IT director to loosen the purse strings

IT funds are tight in the economic downturn, but if you make the case for a project's ROI and business value, you can convince your IT director to give you access to the IT money you need. In this tip, experts share their strategies for getting the guy at the top on your side.

By now we are all aware that times are tough and IT budgets are squeezed or frozen, making it harder to convince your IT director to part with cash and get your hands on the IT fund. As an IT manager, you are not trained in sales, but in IT and the benefits that technology can bring -- so how do you sell an idea to gain access to the IT budgets  necessary to achieve these benefits?

Jon Collins, managing director of analyst company Freeform Dynamics, Gary Hanson, IT/IS manager at Reading Football Club, and David Boswell, IT infrastructure, operations and support manager at Reed Elsevier, give an insider view on how to show your IT director that the IT money you're asking for is necessary for the business to maintain a competitive edge in a rocky economic landscape.

IT directors are not interested in the latest and greatest; they want to know whether it will add value to the business this year and the next

 

David Boswell, IT infrastructure, operations and support manager, Reed Elsevier,

Remember that your IT money needs are different than your IT director's business needs 
According to Boswell, it is important to remember that what you would like as an IT manager is very different than your IT director's business priorities. "My boss wants to know about applications. He wants a clear business strategy and does not want to know about the actual nuts and bolts underneath it all."

Boswell said it is a good idea to approach your IT director with this in mind so you can focus the conversation around improving business processes, which may generate more revenue. After you've grabbed his attention, this is the point where you drop in issues you need to address, such as virtualisation and storage efficiency, according to Boswell.

"The applications are considered the real value of the business, so start there. Then let him know that to carry out this business strategy, several questions have to be taken into consideration, such as do I need more WAN capacity, more storage or more servers to support these applications?" he advised.

Boswell stressed the need for more IT managers to get involved with the applications team to see in advance which projects are coming up so you can work together. "It is difficult to try and catch up afterwards," he said.

Reading Football Club's Hanson agreed that IT money is hard to come by and that it's a challenge to convince your IT director to spend to prevent a problem that hasn't happened yet. "When the club was in the Premiership, I got what I asked for budget-wise. Now we are in the Championship, I just cannot get the IT money I need to stop problems in advance. I am only given money to fix issues as they arise."

Demonstrate potential savings with several scenarios 
The experts agreed that you must provide evidence of return on investment (ROI) and build a strong argument for the IT budget you're requesting. They also agreed, however, that there are several ways to tackle this tricky business meeting.

When revealing the final number to your IT director, it's easy to try to hide as many costs as possible until absolutely necessary. But Boswell said he is more successful with his IT director if he's upfront from the start so there are no nasty surprises.

"All of the costs are addressed first thing. He is already sold on the business strategy, so I just have to explain the extra costs to carry that out," Boswell said. "Instead of saying, 'I have done my research, believe me, now give me the money,' I show him the evidence of this and you're more likely to gt access to the IT fund."

Analyst Collins, whose has a background in managing IT departments, including a stint at Alcatel Lucent, said that in his experience, business plans are not complex PowerPoint presentations, but are bits of paper pulled together explaining different scenarios and the pros and cons of each.

"You do not need to confuse them with lengthy business plans. It is about demonstrating to your IT director that what you are asking for will solve a business problem," he said.

I just cannot get the IT money I need to stop problems in advance. I am only given money to fix issues as they arise

 

Gary Hanson, IT/IS manager at Reading Football Club,

Hanson said he used to write out in-depth business plans about where the business was going and what he needed to get there, but found he was getting knock backs.

"I have found that the guys that hold the IT money have the attention span of a gnat," Hanson said. "Now I try to grab five minutes of my boss's time, and start by generalising about what I need and where I would like to take the business, but I am careful not to focus on costs."

"It is easier to gage a reaction first. Work out what pushes your IT director's buttons and know when to make your strike, for that IT fund."

Hanson gave the example of looking into Software as a Service (SaaS) for Web content or mail filtering. He advised to start by grabbing five minutes of your IT director's time to talk to him. If he seems keen, then send him a proposal and a short analysis in an email.

"When he is ready, he may ask you to take a trip up to his office to discuss it, but you have not bombarded him with details and costs straight away," Hanson said.

Innovation vs the reality of IT 
Experts agreed that a passion for innovative technology will not get your IT director to give up his IT fund if what you are proposing starts to run up too many bills.

Hanson said he wanted to implement a Reading Football Club cashless card system at the stadium. It would work for the local buses, admission to the stadium and at the stadium's bars. "The idea was going well, the bus companies agreed, we could easily set up the system at the stadium, but the cashless side of the plans meant we were drawn to a halt. The banks explained the regulations needed for cashless card systems, topping the cards up, online authorisation, etcetera. For financial reasons here, Reading decided to pull the plug on the idea," he explained.

Boswell said you can still be innovative, but you have to address particular business problems first. For example, he feels that deduplication is a great idea and very innovative, but it does not address a particular business need in the eyes of his IT director.

"IT directors are not interested in the latest and greatest; they want to know whether it will add value to the business this year and the next," said Boswell.

Collins said sometimes it is easier to rephrase your request. Instead of thinking about how to justify a need, think about building an argument around the three things you have chosen to do that month from a wish list of a hundred. Build a strong argument around why those three things have to be done this month, as opposed to the 97 others, and what might happen if they are not addressed.

"It is important to get the balance right with innovation and just having to get critical IT problems done. You have to address the reality of IT -- it is not about IT itself."

The importance of trust 
Collins said the most important element he took from his experience as an IT manager was the fact that you have to earn trust. "Once you have that, it is much easier to manage your IT director and get the IT money needed."

Boswell said it is always best to be honest with your boss. If you've made a mistake, tell him, and give him an estimate of how long it will take to fix.

"When it comes around to asking for the IT money you need, he will be more willing to give it to someone who he knows he can trust to spend it wisely and will get the job done -- he will respect your judgment," Boswell concluded.

Hanson added that loyalty is also an important factor. "If you have that with your IT director, when times are tough they will sit and listen to what you need and they will defend you if anything goes wrong."

Kayleigh Bateman is the site editor for SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk. 
 

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