Budget time puts IT's grip on funding to the test

It is that time of year again when many IT managers are securing their budgets for the year ahead and struggling to prove they are not the 'Cinderella' of their organization.

Claiming most organizations do perceive IT as the stepchild Coca-Cola Amatil infrastructure operations manager Michael Sumner says this is the biggest hurdle to overcome and with a staff of 3500 to support, it is no easy stereotype to beat.

"IT just goes on working underneath the visible parts, so no one really knows what it does," Sumner said. "And with us [IT people] being generally more introverted, we're quite happy with no one noticing us. And that's not a good thing.

"But we are no longer one of the limbs of the business body. We are the nervous system. Without it, business doesn't operate." Despite the misconception of IT as a third wheel within the company, Sumner is a firm believer that tech professionals can prove the value of IT to their CEO and CFO.

His optimism drives his belief that IT pros should be demonstrating how IT accommodates positive change.

Selling the business case for IT to management, he said, requires a combination of "patience, tenacity and the sheer will of a Rottweiler".

"I also need the ability to collate, distil and understand lots of financial information, which is not easy for a technical person such as myself. And I always try to refrain from IT jargon," he said.

Sumner is responsible for managing two-thirds of the annual operational IT expenditure, made up of indirect expenses for hardware and software maintenance.

Coca Cola is governed by a need to ensure that the total cost of the company's IT is less than 2 percent of its net sales each year and has tapped into smarter ways of procuring technology, namely by moving the company to a Total Service Management (TSM) model with IBM last year.

The company adopted this TMS model as a way of consolidating a plethora of maintenance contracts and vendors.

Sumner said the move has helped the organization save between 10 and 15 percent on overall maintenance expenses.

At the same time he has become much tougher on vendors with things like scrutinising contracts more closely and insisting service levels adhere to contractual agreements and are protected by penalty clauses.

His one wish for IT is more simplicity, arguing that systems are becoming disparate and their myriad interfaces more complex.

"These business systems are spread across multiple platforms so consolidation is on my wish list; but not the usual hardware and server vendor hype about consolidating servers and hardware - that's a piece of cake. It's consolidating applications that's the hard bit," Sumner said.

He also laments that within the IT mix, the cost of software licences in particular are prohibitively expensive.

"It frustrates me that this is often [the case]. And because it's expensive to buy, it's expensive to maintain," he said.

"One vendor tried to charge me to upgrade to the latest version of their software when I'd already been paying maintenance for the past four years. I was flabbergasted and politely informed them [this was] totally unreasonable. I pay maintenance for the longevity of the software and my ability to upgrade and obtain new features and bug fixes. I think they're reconsidering their strategy."

Meanwhile, he warns of the hidden costs in something as simple as user support, pointing out: "If you pay good money for training then you'll save on the support. Poor user training for new systems is one of the hidden costs of IT support."

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