Worst-case scenarios sell the business case: panel

TORONTO — IT executives should be prepared to act as prophets of doom if they want senior management to accept their business cases, experts told the Telemanagement Live! conference on Wednesday.

As part of a panel discussion called “”Show Me The Money,”” executives from both the public

and private sector said creating a sense of urgency is sometimes a critical part of competing for capital budget dollars among other enterprise departments. Without it, they said, senior management may prefer to put off IT spending they aren’t sure is important to the stability and growth of network infrastructure.

“”I like to paint a bit of a dark cloud,”” said David Humphries, vice-president of IS at CAA Ontario. “”You have to show them a cliff that they don’t see . . . sometimes I’ve been guilty of dragging some pain down to someone so they know what the consequences (of inaction) are.””

Humphries said he wasn’t encouraging anyone to lie, but that IT executives need to credibly identify the productivity, security or performance problems that could come when products aren’t occasionally refreshed or completely changed.

Marlene Robinson, CIO of online booking site MyTravel, said that the challenge of making a business case based on risk management is that there are usually no hard dollars you can discuss with a CEO. That’s why you have to show them what the alternative is to spending nothing.

“”Don’t assume just because it’s a release upgrade that (getting the money) is going to be a cakewalk,”” she said, adding that it may be wise to use other members of the management team to help sell the strategy. “”It may be that there’s a level of risk that the CFO doesn’t want to live with.””

Senior managers naturally have a resistance to change, including those involving IT, said Jack Henderson, manager of telecom and networks at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. That’s why he proposed a formula of D x V x F to get management buy-in. In this case, he said “”D”” stands for dissatisfaction, “”V”” is for vision and “”F”” is for “”first steps.

“”Change management means creating dissatisfaction with what is or what is going to be,”” he said. “”That’s a product you’re creating.””

Robinson, who before MyTravel worked at Canadian Tire and Campbell’s Soup, said a common mistake is to narrow the scope of a business proposal in order to get it approved. “”That’s a fatal error in terms of credibility,”” she said. “”Don’t ask for a few thousand if you really need $500,000 to $2 million. You can’t go back later.””

Humphries said he’s learned to expect the unexpected the hard way. Although his first desktop refresh went off without a hitch, he ran into a roadblock when a new CFO came on board. “”I got calls over the Christmas holidays that the purchase orders had been rejected,”” he said. “”I came in expecting a fight . . . but to be fair, he had just joined our organization and it must have seemed like a lot of money.”” In the end, Humphries said he got funding for half of the refresh, and later experienced much higher maintenance costs for the remaining older machines, which weren’t upgraded for another year.

Henderson said he encountered a different obstacle when he planned a networking project at Queen’s without taking into consideration the age of the buildings. “”Some of them needed new roofs, and that was something that came out of someone else’s budget,”” he said. “”I never realized we should have placed a priority on what buildings to start on.””

Before they make a presentation, Robinson said IT executives should figure out how their audience prefers to see a presentation. “”It sounds silly, but it is extremely important,”” she said. “”You may be working on PowerPoint slides when all the CEO really wants to see is an Excel spreadsheet.””

Humphries concurred. “”Have you seen the briefing binders CEOs have to look through? They’re this thick,”” he said, holding his first two fingers widely apart. “”Most of them only have time to get through an executive summary.””

Telemanagement Live runs through Thursday.

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