Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blame it on the budget (Part 6 of 11 on Managing Tech 2 Meet Mission)

"We need a bigger budget! We have computers to replace, software to upgrade, networks to secure, staff to train, websites to redesign, emails to send, apps to develop, databases to support, etc." It is like a broken record or the echo in a cave that never ends, the tech department is always asking for extra money.

Often we have the best ideas and all of the best intentions in mind. We know we are asking for the extra money because we need it, not just for technology sake.  Then we make the request and the response simply is "it's just not in the budget." So each year when it comes to budget time, we push for that bigger IT budget, whether it is operating or capital. We make the case for the needed upgrades and replacements. We add in new initiatives and tools. But when the ink hits the paper, does the budget get approved?

Technology has a history of being viewed solely as a cost center. We are an expense to manage. So that is how our budget is reviewed, a list of wants that is easily trimmed.We may eventually need them, but our tech staff can make due with what they have. Besides we all know that no matter what budget IT gets, they will always want more.  There is always that better tool, upgrade, gadget, etc. 

How do we start to change this? It is different for each organization, but one thing is to give the rest of your organization a voice to express why the technology improvements are critical to them. Have the staff that do the daily work tell the story of why technology is needed. Shape the request as if it is a business need, not a technology request.  

IT can't be the one always asking for the IT budget. If the IT department is the only one who is willing to stand up in an organization and say that we need better technology, then maybe you don't really need it. If technology is aligned well and the full organization sees the value, then they could become your budget champions. Instead of the IT director making yet another technology ask, have the staff that need the technology help write the business case for the budget.

One way to accomplish could be to come up a technology purchase request form that ties a purchase to a business need, organizational goal or strategic initiative. Another could be to begin a cross functional steering committee that analyzes the organizational needs and makes technology proposals. 

But some of the best ways that I have seen a technology budget written is simply to tie every purchase to a specific item in the strategic plan, describing how it meets that goal. But be sure to also be very direct in which staff in the org it impacts, as well as what the risks are if the budget isnt allocated.  

The real key is that once you have a budget approved be sure to spend time measuring the effectiveness of that purchase. What impact did it have? What work was improved? How much time was saved? If you used a form to get a department or staff member to suggest the technology, follow up with a survey to that group. If you tied it to a goal or initiative, was it met? Tell the story about how the technology helped. 

To sum it up, it is easy to trim and ignore a technology budget when it is just that IT director yelling in a cave that we need more money.  That request has a different voice when it comes from the rest of the staff as part of a business plan.

Over 11 weeks I am doing a themed series of blog posts. Each week I will write about a chapter of the book called Managing Technology to meet your Mission. This week is on the 6th chapter by By Scott McCallum and Keith R. Thode called Budgeting for and Funding Technology. You should totally buy the book. (In case you are wondering, I am volunteering to do this, I am not getting paid or in any other way reimbursed for this. I just love NTEN and their events.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

IT Clones or People? (Part 5 of 11 on Managing Tech 2 Meet Mission)

An army is a set of soldiers that are taught to follow orders, stay in line and do their job. Soldiers are pushed to loose their identity, hide personality, and fit in.

Special Ops teams though are chosen for their special talents. They are carefully selected to build a balanced team.  Each member is encouraged to be an individual but act as a unit.

But who gets selected for the Special Ops team? Is it solely based on skills, qualifications, experiences, certifications, etc? No, I would have to venture that there is more to it than what you know and what you can do, it is also who you are and how well you fit in with the team.

Think about all of the best army movies, superhero teams and even in person teams you know. Is the team a group of clones like stormtroopers that always get along? Or is it a team of individuals that can lead to some disagreement, difference of opinion but believe in a similar cause?

Obviously I am exaggerating this, but one of the things that we stressed in our tech team interviews is personality and how it will mix with the team. I have seen many managers that look to hire almost exact replicas of themselves.  They look to find someone they can get along with. But many of the most successful IT departments I have seen are composed of many differing opinions and personalities.

So the only thing that I would add to the chapter by James L. Weinberg and Cassie Scarano called Finding and Keeping the right people is to be purposeful about personality. This would include some exploration of the commitment to the mission that you work on. The chapter does offer a very comprehensive structure to follow in hiring, plus numerous easy to implement tips. Much of which was new learning to me, I will have to reread this one a few more times.

The part I really liked was how much they talked about what you should do before you even begin looking. Too often I see a rush to fill a quick staff need, rather than think through what the long term role that is needed.  I have seen so many job descriptions that stress an immediate need for technical expertise.  But what I have learned is that often it is easier to teach the technical skills than it is to find a team member.

Getting the right IT staff is not talked about enough. The success of IT Alignment depends on the staff more than the tools. How can IT have a solid relationship with the org if the IT team isnt purposeful in creating it's team to focus on relationships and mission?

FUNNY (TO ME) RANDOM THOUGHT: Often technology is thought of as just a set of tools. Isnt hiring staff only for tech skills treating them like a tool?

Over 11 weeks I am doing a themed series of blog posts. Each week I will write about a chapter of the book called Managing Technology to meet your Mission. This week is on the 5th chapter by James L. Weinberg and Cassie Scarano called Finding and Keeping the Right People. You should totally buy the book. (In case you are wondering, I am volunteering to do this, I am not getting paid or in any other way reimbursed for this. I just love NTEN and their events.)

Flickr photos by The U.S. Army and by Official Star Wars Blog

Thursday, October 1, 2009

IT/Fin Dev Relationship, ONTC slides, NTEN guest blog

I have been pretty busy at work and at home but found a smidgen of time to do a few little things to possible help the greater good or inspire some thoughts.  So I thought I would share those here, in case both of my readers were interested.

First, John Merritt and I had a great time presenting during the Online Nonprofit Technology Conference for NTEN. We broke down our thoughts about how to approach IT Alignment based on a typical org chart.  After all an org chart does tell you a lot about how IT is viewed in your org. As we went through the slides we took turns sharing examples of how we approached each part of the org, plus highlighted successes and failures in those efforts.  Thanks to the awesome staff at NTEN for including us!  So here is that presentation:

But that's not all folks.

NTEN Blog Guest Post!

I was also invited to write a guest post for the NTEN blog, how cool is that!?!? They gave me free reign on topic but set a word limit.  Lucky for them I was a little focused that day and didnt end up talking about flying monkeys improve air quality or how lightsabres are awesome hedge clippers. Rather I stayed on topic and talked about IT Alignment, but I did completely ignore their suggested word limit!  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS AMAZING POST! (ok over did it there)

IT Guy to Fundraisers: Partner With Us

I was asked by Fundraising Success to write an article based on my planned participation in the ONTC.  So I decided to have a little fun with the friendly people over in Financial Development.  They can be so serious about raising all that money and stuff. Well anyway, you can read that article by clicking here, no maybe here, no wait here.

I will get back to the 11 part series next week, but at this rate I wont even finish this year.