Planning and spending

Spending money and using resources was easy in the go-go years of late 1990s as there was just so much of both. Need another employee? No problem. More gear? Go shopping. Employee incentives? Cash, gizmos, gadgets - go nuts. It was so much easier (insert your own nostalgic sigh here). And it's also so not today. When you don't have enough to go around, how do you decide where resources are spent?

For many companies the answer is aligning their resources with the corporate business strategy and assessing the request's business value. While it's always cool to roll out a cutting edge technology, it's useless if it doesn't make your company faster, better or stronger. The days of technology for technology's sake are over (actually I like to think they're just postponed to another time). Today, business value is the bottom line.

Many businesses are also finding their project priorities shifting on a week-by-week, if not day-by-day or hour-by-hour basis. While being flexible was always a good professional quality, today it's a necessity. Look at the case of Gerald Shields, vice president of insurer AFLAC in Columbus, Ga. In his case, a new PeopleSoft system could be months away from completion, but new reports are needed today that require modifications made to the current payroll system.

"That happens every single day where you have a system coming in, but it's six months out, and you have to spend money to go into today's system and make changes," he says.

IT executives also recommend project pipelines - a series of stages a proposal must go through before it gets funded. Dow Chemical's project process allocates an increasing percentage of time for three separate stages of researching a potential IT investment. Passing the third stage defines a commitment to the project. If you don't have a formal, multistage project process (other than a one-step "Do we have the money?"), consider creating one. It doesn't have to be layered with bureaucracy, just something that builds in more time before a check is cut.

As I was waxing nostalgic at the beginning of this newsletter about the loose-budget late 1990s, I was reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that popped up when I opened my calendaring software this morning: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

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