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.)

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