Five tips for getting your IT project funded in a tough economy

In an atmosphere of drastic spending cuts, IT projects can be a tough sell. Here are a few strategies that will give your tech initiatives a fighting chance.

As we head into the second full year of the economic slump, obtaining funding for IT projects  is becoming more difficult than ever. How can you get budget conscious managers to loosen the purse strings and give you the money that you need to complete your pet project? Here are five tips that can help.

1: Make your project mission critical

If your project is mission critical the company pretty much has to give you the money you need to complete it. Of course, this does you no good if you're trying to win funding for a project that isn't mission critical. In that case, you need to tie your project to some mission-critical function.

If you can make a compelling argument that the project will facilitate one of the company's stated objectives, or if you can tie the project to a regulatory issue, you are well on your way to getting the project funded. You may have to restructure your project so that it really is tied to a mission-critical aspect of the business.

2: Spend money to make money

Another way to win funding for a project is to show that the project will help increase revenues for the company. We have all heard the old saying that you have to spend money to make money. Sometimes, this statement is absolutely true.

For example, I recently took on a project that required me to spend more money than I care to think about on new server hardware. However, the project I was working on brought in twice the money I spent, so the financial loss was only temporary. If you can prove that your project will produce more money than it costs to implement, there is a good chance that your project will be funded.

3: Demonstrate a cost savings or a productivity benefit

If you can show that once implemented, your project will boost productivity, improve efficiency, or save money in some other way, you have a good chance of getting your funding.

I recently had a client who went through just such a project. The client decided to implement Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) -- a technology in which each user's operating system exists as a virtual machine on a network server. As you can imagine, VDI tends to be both complex and expensive to implement -- especially if the VDI deployment is designed to be fault tolerant. This organization chose to adopt VDI in spite of the costs because it realized that doing so would eliminate nearly all of its help desk issues, resulting in a tremendous cost savings.

All of the users' PCs were replaced with inexpensive thin client devices. When they connect to the network, they're attached to a virtualized operating system that is in a pristine state. Adopting VDI eliminated nearly all help desk issues associated with workstation hardware failure. It also prevented the desktop operating systems from straying from the tested baseline configuration. The result was an unprecedented savings due to reduced help desk calls. The users who do have to call the help desk have found that they are now able to have their issues resolved more quickly because there aren't as many people waiting for help.

If you can demonstrate that your project will yield such benefits, there's a good chance it will be funded.

4: Trim the cost of other projects

Another way to get funding for your project is to trim a little bit of fat from other parts of the IT budget. When I worked as an IT manager, I always overestimated the costs of various projects. That way, I could be relatively sure that I would never have to go crawling to management asking for more money. In addition, many of my projects came in under budget. This gave me a bit of leeway to take unneeded money from one project and apply it to another project without busting my overall budget.

Even if you can't find enough money in your existing IT project to completely fund your budget, you may be able to find enough money so that management does not view the remaining cost of your project as excessive.

5: Pitch your track record

Occasionally, you may find that your only option is to stake the project on your reputation. If you have a history of proposing IT projects that have made or saved money, be sure to remind management of that fact. If the powers that be know you have a good track record, they are much more likely to give you money when you ask for it.

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