If IT budgets were boundless, budgets would be able to support the substantial backlogs of requests that IT always has. However, as we near the end of the budget year for most companies, there are limits to budgets until the new year, and managers begin to feel them.
In some cases, this is just a "paperwork" phenomenon, because IT managers know that important projects in progress will secure new budgetary funding as a new year approaches. But in other cases, projects must be placed on hold or perhaps not started at all until new money is in the budget.
These end-of-year budget realities make it essential for IT managers to do some contingency planning. In other words, if the present year's budget runs out, what worthwhile projects that don't require new money can you assign IT staff to?
New product development
A major opportunity in IT R&D is to work with new vendors that are anxious to get companies onboard with their technologies. Many of these vendors are startups that will offer "try before you buy" products at no cost. Vendors do this because they want to have installed instances of a new product as references for their sales teams. In return for allocating staff (without allocating budget), you get a free proof of concept of a new technology that can potentially pay off for your company.
Project stoppages due to budget constraints can also be redirected into work on the IT backlog, which continues to grow and never goes away. Key backlog projects by functional area within IT include:
Application Development: Use this time to rework old applications that don't work well, and make refinements to application development methodologies that will deliver further speed to market for new apps.
Database Administration: Consolidate or even eliminate databases for improved efficiencies, database performance tuning for improved efficiencies and resource utilization, and data stewardship tasks that review data archiving, purging and storage policies and procedures.
Networks: Make improvements in network quality of service (QoS) so that the company begins to develop its own set of network quality standards, instead of the QoS default presets that network equipment vendors provide. At the same time, network administrators can review security vulnerabilities and policies to ensure that these are as robust as possible.
IT operations and administration: Review IT assets within the data center and in outside user departments, identify and dispose of all assets that are obsolete, conduct a review of security and other IT governance policies and procedures, and develop a new training curriculum for IT staff so they can be prepared for future projects.
The ease in project pressures during a lull brought on by a budget cycle is a good time to allocate staff for cross-training exercises. In this way, a junior network staff member who wants more training on voice-based technology can work with telephony; or a QA person who desires more hands-on experience with applications can tackle some application development and/or maintenance tasks. The benefit from this type of cross-training is that it is hands-on—and it might enable some staffers to assume other cross responsibilities when project pressures demand it.
Managers should always explain to staff why certain tasks are being scheduled, and what the end goals are. And remember, a temporary stop to projects can be an opportunity to focus staff on tasks that have the greatest ability to return lasting value to the enterprise.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.