Have you ever had a problem getting a commitment from your company to implement an IT initiative that you just know is the right thing to do? If so, this article may spark some ideas that will improve your technology proposal approval rate. There are at least five questions we need to ask ourselves when trying to get approval to launch a new technology initiative.
The company's financial keys are in the hands of the CFO and CEO for the most part. In many cases, these two people won't necessarily understand the real value of a particular technology initiative you recommend. After all, their job is to manage the financial viability of the company, the basis of which allows a company to invest in technology or do anything else to improve its operation.
Question #1—What's the financial benefit to the company?
Most CFOs and CEOs want to know the answer to this question as quickly as possible. The financial impact is probably the single most important issue to both of these senior executives, and you won't get very far if you can't answer this question. It's the basis of how they make most decisions on issues that have significant costs associated with them.
How much does it cost, what is the payback, and how long does it take to recoup our expense? In a nutshell, that's what they want to know and, in most cases, they don't particularly want to understand the technology.
Question #2—Do you know where the industry "levers" are?
Every industry has leverage points that help a company to be more profitable and to operate more smoothly. In retail, it's managing inventory turns, purchasing, and sales analysis; in manufacturing, it's managing raw materials and components, production processes, etc.; healthcare has leverage points in medical records management and insurance billing and receivables.
If your IT initiatives target specific industry leverage points that have been proven to improve the profitability of similar companies, your initiative will get more consideration.
CEOs and COOs traditionally come from either the operations or sales side of the business. As such, they tend to know where the hot buttons of the industry are and will relate quickly to proposals that address those areas. Strong CFOs tend to have good instincts in this area, as well.
Question #3—Does the initiative support the company's plans and objectives?
Senior management has to balance the investment of cash and other assets of the company among all of its departments. It is vitally important that any technology initiative you propose be one that supports the company's plans and objectives and takes into consideration the constraints that it faces. Requesting a million-dollar upgrade for your network while the company is downsizing is probably not consistent with company plans and objectives.
Cash may be a significant constraint at any given time. If so, your new technology initiative proposals should be projects that help the company free up and accumulate cash over time, not spend more of it when it isn't available.
If a CEO has to decide between critical equipment for a revenue-producing department of the company over an IT initiative that appears to have cost but an undefined return on investment, which item do you think the CEO will choose? Which would you choose?
Remember, the CEO probably understands the operations business, but not necessarily the IT business.
Question #4—Do you have an established track record of delivering projects on time and within budget?
When you deliver what you say you will, you establish credibility. One of the strongest factors in getting your technology initiative proposals accepted will be whether you have established credibility in the past.
Consistent achievement of key projects will make or break your credibility. Without a credible track record, it's going to be an uphill battle every time in getting your senior management team to spend more money for your recommendations.
If you don't have a positive track record, propose small initiatives that are inexpensive and that help you establish a solid track record as quickly as possible. Then, you can build upon those small successes.
Question #5—Do you have a track record of proposing project initiatives that provide real value to the company?
CEOs and CFOs need partners who are in the trenches helping them, not CIOs who are spending money for technology's sake. Unfortunately, your CEO and CFO tend to see IT as a department that constantly wants to spend money, and they may not actually understand the full reason or justification for that spending.
In some cases, I believe senior management sees IT managers as people who want the "new toys," but not necessarily the operation that can facilitate the most change for positive results throughout the company.
As a CIO, it is your responsibility to help senior management appreciate the value the IT department provides the company. One of the key ways to do that is by proposing technology initiatives that are on the mark in helping the company and by establishing a consistent track record that shows your IT organization adds real value to the company. Therefore, IT becomes viewed as an excellent investment and not an expense. It's certainly how we want to be viewed and worth working for.
Reflecting on these five questions can help you establish a credible track record and make a bigger difference for your company.