Every Manager knows and accepts that their role involves multiple, often conflicting priorities that must be balanced. Choices between “must have” and “nice to have” must be made almost daily, priorities chosen, sometimes difficult decisions made.
We’re talking, of course, about managing the IT budget.
Each year when you prepare your budget submission, incorporating short term operational requirements alongside longer term strategic requirements for new investment, it’s a painful process. There are so many areas to look after just to keep the network and IT systems in a stable operational state. Apart from this, many aspects of your IT infrastructure are interdependent. For example, in order to ensure best practice in network security, you need to maintain software, so that you can be certain that your network users are on the most up-to-date, current — and secure — versions.
It’s a challenge just to maintain network and server uptime, just to ensure everything keeps going. And that’s before you factor in responding to support calls and firefighting or planning future investment and deployment of new technologies such as cloud systems. Everything is a balance — and it all comes down to budget. What’s mandatory and unquestionably “must have”; and what can be sacrificed, at least for now, because it’s deemed a “nice to have”.
A common budget issue faced by IT Managers, particularly in times of uncertainty or sluggish growth is: “do more with less”. Sound familiar? The good news is that if you’re feeling that you’re being asked to stretch your IT budget across more and more areas, while not being given what you’ve asked for in your budget plan, you’re not alone.
- Data security — including perimeter and end point security
- Cloud — managing existing cloud applications and migrating others
- Data centre management — networking infrastructure, processes
- Computer hardware equipment — including computers, servers and peripherals
- Computer software — operating system upgrades (Windows 10) and user applications such as Office365
- Enterprise applications — software systems such as accounting, ERP and CRM
- Mobile devices and remote working applications — enabling users to work anywhere
- Helpdesk and support services
- Disaster recovery and business continuity
- Futures — getting ready for IoT and AI
- Headcount — growing the team, hiring in the skills you need
- Managed services — outsourcing certain functions such as data centre services
Whether you build your IT budget from top down (i.e. “working from a budget figure of £XXX allocated to you by the business) or from the bottom up (i.e. “in order to meet our IT responsibilities we need a budget figure of £YYY), it can be a difficult job to weigh up the different requirements.
Your business is going to have a unique and specific orientation towards IT spending, and this will determine your own approach. Do you ‘enable’ the business with a visible and proactive approach? Or do you ‘support’ the business, keeping systems running according to requirement and fixing issues or supporting users on demand?
To a degree, the way you balance your spending on IT will depend on your personal approach within the business. Do you want a voice at the top table to make your views about IT requirements of the business known? Or are you happy to play more of a reactive role?
In our experience, if you’ve got the budget you need to do your job, you’ll have done three key things prior to getting your budget approved:
- Developed a robust, forward looking IT strategy that takes into account evolving as well as current operational requirements
- Liaised with and gained input from departmental stakeholders to understand their IT needs
- Generated a plausible ROI to justify your budget projections.
The ‘Enemies’ of Good IT Budget Management
Once your budget is set, you’re going to face multiple, often conflicting calls on it. You’re going to need to account for some expected — and some unexpected — influences that have the potential to disrupt your tightly planned budget and plough through your resources.
These might include:
- Too many areas to cover
- Unrealistic expectations
- Maverick IT spending by departmental heads or staff
- New business requirements or unplanned ‘IT incidents’ such as a security breach
- An unexpected business downturn (or other external factor) leading to a cut in your budget part way through the year
Let’s have a look at these areas in more detail.
Managing your budget is similar to managing your priorities: you’re always juggling multiple balls in the air and as soon as something comes along to disrupt what you’re doing, things fall down.
Yet it’s a fact that very few IT teams can manage all their priorities without outside assistance.
The key is to identify the areas or ‘roles’ that you feel can most readily be managed by the in-house team, and those that could be outsourced to a competent 3rd party IT Support or Management partner equipped with the relevant skills and technologies:
Examples of easy-to-outsource IT department roles could include:
- Help desk support
- Cloud services
- Voice and data comms management
- Patching Backups
Hot on the heels of the multiple priorities issue comes the ‘unrealistic expectations’ problem.
If your management team expects you to deliver what you consider to be an unrealistic set of IT services across the business, you can attempt to meet expectations and stress out your team unduly in the process or manage expectations and be clear about what cannot be delivered. There is another answer though.
Use an expert IT services provider to devise an IT strategy and plan that will achieve most — or all — of what is being asked for.
Nobody in your business should be making their own unapproved IT purchases. But people do — and that can include management. Why is this?
- Employees think their purchases are too small to matter
- Process for of purchase approvals is slow or complex
- Management doesn’t seem to mind maverick buying
- Vendor contract management is ineffective
- Approved vendors and/or solutions not liked by staff
Outsource IT purchasing to a professional IT support or managed service provider, possibly as part of a wider IT Support Management contract. Mandate around the business (with CEO approval) that no unauthorised IT purchases may be made. A good justification for this is not just the budget management argument; unapproved IT purchases may also pose a security risk to the business.
The name of the IT game is change. Businesses rarely stand still and so new, unforeseen and unplanned calls on the IT budget are always going to pop up from somewhere; and in the increasingly connected world of business, it’s critically important that the business is aware of and prepared to deal with an emergency such as a data breach.
Most IT budgets will have an element of contingency built in to allow for unexpected or new requirements. The questions are “how much contingency” and “will it be enough”? In these cases, it’s usual to plan contingency funding into the budget for new or evolving requirements. It’s also advisable to ensure that critical IT projects are implemented as a priority so that what must be done is delivered as early in the financial year as is feasible.
But when it comes to unplanned or unexpected ‘IT incidents’ such as a security breach, terrorist incident or natural disaster, it’s vital that special measures are put in place.
Find an IT provider that can assist with a full-blown solution for:
- Resilient communications services for voice and data services
- Disaster recovery planning to include a range of cloud solutions including backup and restore capabilities
- Business continuity processes to enable the business — and its employees — to get back up and running as soon as possible
A cut to the IT budget is never good news, and in many ways, it is going to be seen as short-sighted by IT professionals who are responsible for managing the budget.
But a downturn in the fortunes of your business is going to be felt everywhere — and the IT budget is no more likely to escape than any other departments.
At other times though, your business may experience and upturn; and when it does, it’s not unusual for IT Managers to be asked to support the recruitment of new staff or opening of new offices without the promise of a proportionate increase in IT budget.
In these cases, whether you need to scale your IT requirements down or up, you need the services of a flexible cloud services provider that can deliver cloud services on a ‘per seat’ basis and that can be quickly add or remove licenses.
Examples of cloud services and applications that can scale quickly up or down include:
- VoIP telephony, including a Cloud PBX solution
- SaaS solutions — such as CRM, Accounting or Microsoft Office 365
- Hosted desktop services such as cloud-based document storage