The Big Squeeze

The Big Squeeze

In such an environment putting up a strong business case is becoming more critical than ever, many CIOs say.

"Before [a big-ticket item] ever gets to our Council for consideration the organisation has to have taken a fairly serious look at it and decided that it is something important for the organisation to do and it is going to provide some payback,"says City of Melbourne CIO Mike Healy. "Now the business case is not always entirely monetarily based, so it's not necessarily always about saving money. It may be about enhancing customer service, but the business case has to be strong."

To keep executives focused on the long-term big picture, some companies are setting strategic business and IT goals at the same time, under the auspices of an executive steering committee. Then a second group, consisting of the business managers (such as director of marketing, director of IS), approves funding for the projects that align with the company's strategic goals.

Healy says most IT spending for the City of Melbourne is allocated in the annual budget. There are essentially three components: an operating budget, which is about the day to day operation of the service, a maintenance budget, which is about maintaining the infrastructure to continue the city's operations, and a capital budget, which is about new expenditure.

"A big-ticket item would generally be in the capital arena, where you're adding some new capability on,"Healy says. "The first thing that should happen is that it should be identified in our strategy paper, when we're doing our three-year strategy for the organisation. When the year comes up that we want to do it in, then we need to put it into our capital budget, and then two things happen. One is that it gets approved by the management of the organisation as something that they endorse that we need, and they'd be expecting a business case associated with it. Then they would put it to our board of directors, which is our Council, who approve the overall budget for the corporation."

Things work a little differently at Guinness UDV, which tries to manage all big-ticket items within an overall projects budget which it rolls out of the strategic planning process it conducts each year in January/ February/March/April. "It [the overall projects budget] squares away a budget which is then somewhat flexible. If we shift its priorities we can still get some work done without having to go and recast numbers, because people are expecting to pay that much across the year for IS improvement,"says IT director Ben Tabell.

But Tabell says the executive or senior management must see the benefit for any major expenditure. Guinness UDV has just embarked on a 12-week project, which, while costing a little more than half a million dollars, will help it manage a $42 million pool of funds that the organisation currently has poor financial control over. "Now conceptually our business will spend that money, no problems, because the senior management see the benefit. You know: $500,000 to control $40 billion each year is probably a bit of a no-brainer. A compelling case is probably the easiest way to get approval of a big-ticket item like that,"Tabell says.

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