Windows administrators, sharpen your pencils.
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With modest growth in IT spending predicted -- the Aberdeen Group forecasts about 4% growth this year worldwide -- administrators need to be crafty if they want to keep their departments and companies running smoothly.
You have to show the boss the figures before the money is shown to you. Administrators must crunch some numbers and prove how costly frequent downtime and sluggish business processes are to the company. Project planning, company size and communication are other factors that administrators must consider before they send proposals to executives.
Know your business
"The biggest thing today is [that] you've got to build a business case," said Mitch Ablove, network manager for the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District in San Francisco.
Administrators will have a much easier time if they can categorize proposals as critical for business, said Terence Choy, network manager for Nancy's Specialty Foods in Newark, Calif. For example, management gives in when customers refuse to do business with a company unless it moves to a certain technology. Then the project becomes a "no-brainer" in the eyes of the CFO, he said.
Choy plans projects well in advance. He begins fine-tuning his annual IT budget proposal four months before the fiscal year begins. This lets management know he's on the ball, and it may smooth the budget process and help ensure funding.
But before administrators create their budgets, they must understand the business of each department, Choy said. Talk to department heads and watch what the employees do. That way, when a department head runs into a technical problem or requests new technology, administrators can determine whether the project is essential -- and worth a request for money.
Methods for persuading bosses to sign off on projects can vary with the size of an organization.
In general, small companies have small technical staffs, fewer opinions on technology, and have a short turnaround for IT projects, administrators said. Large companies require consensus building, more input from technical people, and more time to take IT projects from proposal to reality.
Projects typically have an easier time getting approved at small companies. Julie Bailey, president of the St. Louis SMS User Group and a columnist for myITforum.com, has worked at small companies where she was the only administrator. She remembers interacting daily with management, and how the mere suggestion of a new application or other advancement could quickly lead to the necessary funding. After all, she was the company's tech guru. There was no one around to disagree.
Executives are more difficult to woo at large companies.
One systems engineer in a large organization said that his company has a request board that meets quarterly. Administrators seeking money for projects submit formal written proposals, which the request board reviews. Administrators, who don't attend the request board meeting, must present a specific business need, said the engineer, who wished to remain anonymous.
Above all, administrators must communicate, and that's a skill which IT professionals typically need to improve, said Russell Havens, a systems engineer at Novell Inc.
Administrators must be patient and build consensus with various executives. Start by pointing out a problem, let them mull it over and remind them in a few weeks, Havens said. Don't let them forget the problem. Follow up with numbers that indicate the level of need.
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