Jun 05 2009

Financial Vertigo and IT

Use these tough times to build a path to success.
Jon Paul
Value Added Finance Resources

Bounce a ball on a hard surface. Now bounce it harder. Notice how much higher it goes. Moves you make when you are down determine how far you climb when you are up.

It has been a tough 12 months. Revenues are down. Business lending has evaporated. The stock market has taken a beating. Venerated firms such as Lehman Brothers have disappeared. Housing prices are low, and too many homes are on the market. No need for spinning tops at the carnival. We can get vertigo just trying to sort out these issues.

Yet at times like these, the seeds of the next recovery are sown. New winning companies will emerge that can redefine industries. Those future leaders won’t stand still — they will push ahead. Not all moves made by CEOs are equal. Some moves will have more bounce as the economy rebounds.

Remember the Super Ball? As a kid I loved the action — how much higher that ball would bounce. The difference that creates a “Super Ball” move in business can be technology.

I became CFO of a dying pharmaceutical firm. The computer system didn’t fit — great for assembly but not process manufacturing. The CIO wanted the latest and fastest hardware. I said nonsense, and brought in a new CIO who found an add-on package converting the software at a fraction of the cost. Technology was one driver instrumental to our turnaround.

IT once was left for the back office. With the Internet, IT took on a new role with customers and suppliers, and now should be integrated with a business’s overall strategies. But for many owners, information technology makes them dizzy.

So, how do you bridge the gap between innovative, critical IT projects and reluctant owners in order to create a winning budget?

  • Understand the owner’s personality and how he or she makes decisions. Fit your approach to that style.
  • Find someone the owner trusts and make them your champion.
  • Build a track record with the owner. Success breeds success.
  • Tie the project to the company strategy. Show how the project helps management execute.
  • Create pain. Which competitors are running ahead in IT and already have this?
  • Find out what customers want. How will this increase sales, improve service or strengthen relationships?
  • What new channels or lines of service could the technology open?
  • What costs can be saved? Next to generating sales, cost reduction is big.
  • Speak business, not techno-speak. Make it easy to understand.
  • Monetize it. Put the cost and benefits into dollars.
  • Set limits with time and money. Comfort the owner that this project has an end and will not develop a life of its own.
  • Show how this project fits with total IT spending.

Companies have been whipped in this economy. Complacency is over. Owners are hungry for ways to grow sales and reduce costs. Understand your owner and make it easy for him or her to say “yes” to technology you know the company badly needs. Be the bounce — turn your company into a Super Ball that rebounds high with the recovery.

Jon Paul runs Value Added Finance Resources, a consulting firm increasing the value of companies and the owner’s return. Often this includes restructuring or putting in a new banking relationship.