Boost the Chances of IT Budget Approval

Successfully surviving the budget process requires more than just shouldering past competing departments and technologies. To hit the jackpot in a steadily dwindling pool of IT funds demands a different way of thinking. In addition to determining a cogent list of reasons to get what is needed, you also must learn to deconstruct the drivers behind the process.

Chief Considerations

You need to learn what pressures drive your CEO’s, CFO’s and CIO’s funding decisions, then propose ways to relieve those pressures. “Find out where the biggest constraints exist,” counsels Kevin Verde, CIO, Jason’s Deli in Dallas, Texas.  “Is it staffing? Is it mindshare or focus? Is it dollars? Is it server-sprawl? Is it risk tolerance? Is it complexity? Ask questions and know your CEO, CFO and CIO well. Then, appeal to those perceived constraints within the request.”

The priorities of the CIO, CFO and CEO may differ. It’s vital that your budget strategy take account of all three and incorporate them into a solid, focused proposal. “Find the common ground, which is an understanding of the business, the business strategies, and the goals and objectives of the corporation,” advises Bahija Noell, vice president of the Business Partnership Management Office in the Information Technology Division of Aflac, the insurance giant headquartered in Columbus, Ga.

As long as the CIO and the business leaders agree that technology initiatives must align with the corporate business strategies and bring value to the shareholders, customers, field force and employees, then gaining support to move forward with technology initiatives and securing a place on the business project roadmap becomes relatively easier to achieve, adds Noell.

Find Allies

Aligning IT initiatives with enterprise goals, however, is only one part of a successful budget strategy. Interpersonal communications and relationships can boost you to the front of the line – or boot you to the end – quicker than the time it takes to present your business case.

Measuring the pulse of the organization calls for effective communication between IT and other departments. “Because technology investments often involve large expenditures, the trend is for more shared governance over the decision-making process,” says Jennifer Pitts, assistant professor of Computer Information Systems Management at the Turner College of Business at Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga.

With business managers as well as IT managers justifying the value of technology investments, relationship building must occur across several disciplines. The good news: “This trend has helped overcome some of the challenges commonly associated with technology decisions being driven by politics versus strategy,” says Pitts.

Weigh Hard and Soft Costs

Although interdepartmental relationships are a key factor in clearing budget hurdles, they do not trump the importance of a fundamental business case. “Technology projects that cannot be cost-justified or are not aligned with the company’s strategy are generally not resourced in terms of funding or personnel, regardless of the corporate politics,” warns Pitts.

A continuous and iterative dialog between the CIO and the IT and business managers helps articulate underlying budgetary considerations and head off unpleasant surprises. An unexpected bonus: While some of the ideas brought forward may not come to fruition, discussing them enables everyone to have a better understanding of the organization’s financial situation and to move a step closer to learning what is likely to be approved, says Noell.

For example, finances may not be the deciding factor in okaying an IT project. “For me, dollars are not the only thing that must be budgeted. For every request, I have to factor in any new project’s impact on our departmental focus,” says Verde.

If your proposal is truly based on a strong business argument that addresses upper management concerns, it is more likely to be included in the budget without delay. But even if it gets shelved, a well-researched approach may make future budget requests more successful. “Clear-cut, bottom-line thinking — the slam-dunk case to save money or improve how we can serve our customers — wins every time,” says Verde. “Back up the case with hard facts and prove the results afterwards, and future requests will likely be met with less resistance.”