How Do You Fund Your IT Investments?
First of all, if you are an IT manager or executive and have asked for money to fund a project, you are brave. Too many folks in IT are order-takers. So, hats off to those valiant IT leaders who create business cases for IT initiatives, and present justifications for investments.
However, there is an inherent issue with “asking for money.” It’s as uncomfortable for the asker as it is for the askee. It is almost like you are asking to borrow money with a promise to repay with interest if everything works out.
What’s worse, a pattern of asking for money widens the gap between the business and IT. It doesn’t need to be like this.
The trick is to work 2 key angles:
- Change the primary justification from cost savings to strategic benefit
- Shift credit for the idea from IT to the Business
The following matrix demonstrates the concept:
Elevate the Justification
There is no question that reframing a project’s value can be a tough proposition. Let’s face it, “business performance” has traditionally not been within the realm of IT. Ultimately, IT doesn’t own revenue, customer satisfaction, quality, and other strategic measures.
Having said that, IT does need to step into a partner role, where we are actively working with the business, moving forward together.
This can be achieved simply by putting ourselves in the right situations. The more exposure we get to business issues, the more we can understand and align. Not only does IT align better with the business, but the business aligns with IT by learning a thing or two about technology.
Here are some suggestions:
- Organized idea exchange. Ask business representatives to participate in IT meetings. Create governance and/or continuous improvement functions. Grab an IT colleague or two, go to the shop floor and ask a manager to show you the latest equipment they installed.
- Meet people outside the office. Executives and managers alike should regularly take their business peers out to lunch, coffee, or happy hour. Next time you are on a work trip, make a point of spending time with colleagues and learning what is happening in their departments.
- Interact with external customers. Join the sales team for a meeting with a prospect. Listen in on a customer service call. Attend a trade show with the marketing team.
Case in point:
A CIO at a B2B professional services firm went on a sales call to visit a prospective customer. The prospect was indecisive about a proposal because the representatives in the meeting didn’t agree on internal data. It appeared they had no central repository for key performance metrics.
The CIO suggested that he could help create such a repository. The sales call resulted not only in the prospect accepting the proposal on the table, but also willing to pay for additional services. When you put yourself into the right situations, good things happen.
Needless to say, in this instance, the CIO didn’t have to ask for money to fund the project because it was directly tied to revenue.
Let the Business Take Credit for Ideas
IT leaders often feel they have to come up with ideas related to technology. But they end up having to “sell” the ideas to business executives who instinctively fear any conversations about technology because they consider themselves weak on the subject.
And then, these same business executives go to an industry event, or read a magazine, and hear about a hip new technology that all the cool kids are using. They come back to the office and ask IT, “Why aren’t we using that?” Typically, there are very good reasons why IT cannot pursue all the cutting edge tools. But the conversation is not pleasant for IT, who has to push back on the natural desire from business executives to move forward.
This is when leadership skills are so invaluable. Skilled IT leaders take pride of ownership out of the process. They enable collaboration between IT and the business on multiple levels of the organization. Ideas that come from such collaborative relationships don’t need to be “sold”.
Case in point:
An IT director knew the CRM system his organization was using was outdated and proposed to replace it. For years, his proposals were politely rejected for “budgetary” reasons.
Then the IT director accompanied a sales director to a convention for inside sales professionals. Everyone there raved about Salesforce. The sales director came back and submitted a request to implement Salesforce and, with support from the IT director, the request was approved.
Get Approval on Projects Without Asking
If you are an IT executive or manager, you probably dread asking for investments in technology. To gain approvals without having to ask, you might need to step outside your comfort zone and:
- Befriend your business counterparts. This is how you truly learn what they are trying to achieve, what you can do for them, and how to position a project’s benefits.
- Lead by influence and enable collaboration across the organization to let the business take credit for project ideas.