Ten tips for getting IT funds when times are tough

Whether you believe the US is on the brink of a full-blown recession or just experiencing a temporary downturn, money will be tight for nearly everybody in the next few months or more.

Whether you believe the US is on the brink of a full-blown recession or just experiencing a temporary downturn, money will be tight for nearly everybody in the next few months or more.

Most people under the age of 35 in today's workforce have not experienced what it's like to work in a recession. So it may be time for a review of 10 time-honoured, practical strategies that can help smooth the way past the finance department to get funds for IT efforts.

1. Most finance departments will quickly try to halt projects that appear discretionary. But they generally don't go after capital spending with write-off potential. Fortunately, most large-scale IT projects come under the capital spending heading, and as interest rates drop, capital spending may go up.

2. If it brings about a tangible benefit in the next 12 months, such as a CRM (customer relationship management) project, it's likely to get funding. More long-term projects, such as knowledge management, are apt to be postponed for better economic conditions.

3. IT projects for specific business units that have been funded -- and championed -- by those business units, tend to survive an economic downturn better than broad company initiatives, which tend to be managed directly by the finance chief, whose mission is to curtail spending during an economic downturn.

4. Speaking of that mission, projects that propel the finance chief's goal will get a green light. So if your project requires a little money to save a lot of money by reducing head count, it's probably a safe bet for funding.

5. If you're political, there's always the time-honoured tradition of attaching a rider to a larger appropriation. This method was a favourite during the Y2K crisis when many old systems were upgraded as part of the general effort to avert the crisis. Large-scale ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM applications can carry a few riders, especially when it applies to new hardware.

6. Bringing the company into compliance with federal regulations is also something few people oppose. So your project may have legs if it is connected to a federal regulation, because the mere prospect of dealing with some kind of federal audit is enough to send any business executive running in the opposite direction.

7. Boosting the company's stock value is always a topic near and dear to the heart of the board. If you have an IT project that can be linked to the company's stock value, all kinds of support suddenly become available. It's hard to do, but once achieved, your project could quickly attain sacred-cow status.

8. Leveraging an existing service is also a good way to add IT capabilities without incurring a lot of resistance. You can argue that a modest increase in IT functionality will allow the company to take full advantage of an existing web service, rather than build one from scratch.

9. Most senior business executives still live in fear of major turnover in their IT departments because they know recruiting and retaining good people is very difficult in good times or bad. If your project will attract top-flight talent and helps the business overall, chances are the chief executive will back this project regardless of what the finance head says.

10. When all else fails, use fear. If you know the competition is up to something that uses IT to create a sustainable competitive advantage, the board will be all ears. So stay on top of the competition. After all, if they gain an edge using IT, you'll get blamed.

Admittedly, some of these strategies are cynical. But in hard times, IT executives have to do what they have to do to keep the company current and competitive.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld.

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