Planning is a constant struggle. Forty-seven percent of respondents to a BizTech poll in January said that the lack of time and resources for "real" planning was the biggest hindrance to strategic information technology planning.
The truth is, in every organization, no matter how big, small or successful, time and even resources for planning will not always materialize when and how you expect. There's simply too much to do too often. It's a problem that every business — especially those that are growing — must face.
The job of developing technology systems, keeping them running, plus dealing with unanticipated problems make it difficult for IT managers to find time for planning. "IT is a hard job," admits Rob Markezich, CIO of Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash. "And because of the operational aspects of the job, it is hard to get out of day-to-day work and do planning."
The only way to escape the daily grind is to set up a planning calendar with milestones and deliverables that are set well in advance. Devote an hour per week or schedule a day out of the office, but it is critical to make your self-imposed deadlines stick. "One of the things that my people hate is when I surprise them, so we set up the calendar a year ahead of time with quarterly reviews and a process that forces people to chip away at planning, slowly but surely," Markezich says.
Creating milestones will eliminate "Hail Mary" planning and allow you to isolate business momentum shifts during different periods of the year. If there are seasonal fluctuations to your business, you'll want to understand their effect on IT services and, hopefully, IT's ability to influence those fluctuations for the better.
If you don't have a budget that is optimal, find out when your chief executive sets annual spending and count backward, establishing progress internals and preparing projections of IT needs for the coming year.
Take Guessing Out of the Game
Your projections need to address maintenance and contingencies, while also exploring growth opportunities with an eye toward the capacity to support that growth. During the extended planning period, make sure you: 1) understand where your IT spending originates, and then; 2) look for opportunities to improve revenue generation and reduced expenses; and 3) estimate technology costs and savings of future initiatives in other areas.
After you have delved into these critical areas (with input from other stakeholders), and explored emerging technology options, add up and adjust costs, then prioritize. It sounds like a lot of work — and it is — but the end result should identify pockets of opportunity, as well as cost generators and time sinks. Knowing where these pitfalls will appear on your calendar pays dividends on your sanity and the ability to anticipate.
Fill the Vacuum
Some of you don't even have a budget. Whether tracked or ignored, your company is spending money on IT. The problem with not keeping a budget is that you can't track success or failure or forecast future needs. And that makes it impossible for technology spending to truly support and accelerate business opportunities. Peter Drucker's adage — "if you can't measure it, you can't manage it" — still holds true.
Requested or not, create your own IT budget and share it with management. And if "budget" is a four-letter word, call it a "projection" of anticipated needs and position it as a way to schedule maintenance at nonpeak times, exploit volume purchasing and boost revenue. Slowly build an estimate of what the business spends per employee and plan around peak times, so you can get ahead of your self-imposed deadlines.