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27 January 2009

Justifying IT in a recession

By Andrew Clifford

It is hard to ask for money in a recession. Any case you make needs to be understandable, objective, fact-based, prioritised and transparent.

Last week I covered why an economic downturn can be a good time for working on internal IT activities: reducing costs, reducing risks, and getting ready for change and growth when the recovery comes.

But it is hard to make the case for IT investment in a recession. There is much less money for IT, not even enough to analyse whether investments are worthwhile. There is much greater scrutiny of any investment proposals. You need to demonstrate that you fully understand the situation and that you are proposing the best investments for the organisation. How can you make the case for IT investments in a recession?

Justifying internal IT investments is different from justifying IT for business change projects. When you look at IT for business change projects, you start with an idea of business change and you propose IT changes to match. For internal IT investment, there is no business change, and you have to find value inherent in the IT change, such as a reduction in IT costs. To be successful, you need to really understand the situation, and you need to be able to communicate it effectively to your colleagues. You need to be:

  • Objective. You need to present a set of general business objectives that apply to IT: cost reduction, risk reduction, compliance, competitive position, and readiness for the recovery. Within the IT organisation you can then translate this into IT characteristics such as performance, standardisation, system architecture, continuity management, security, and so forth.
  • Understandable. The rest of the organisation has a simple view of IT, which mostly involves "systems" that deliver some type of service. So you need to talk about whole IT systems, and not the IT things that support them, such as application software, technical infrastructure and working practices.
  • Fact-based. You need to know how well IT meets objectives. You can do this by assessing every system against each IT characteristic.
  • Prioritised. You can use a weighting scheme on systems and characteristics, and a scoring scheme on assessments, to give effective prioritisation.
  • Transparent. You can show how applications and infrastructure relate to systems, and how IT characteristics relate to business objectives. You can show how the prioritisation works. There is nothing to hide.

Assessing systems against IT objectives builds a very effective body of information. You can use this to identify improvements in IT. It shows you the specific applications and infrastructure that need improvement, and the general topics that need management attention. It helps you prioritise. It is quick and cheap. It provides the information you need to justify investment.

This is, of course, the system quality management approach that I often write about. System quality management is a cheap and effective way of identifying and justifying improvements to IT. It works across all parts of IT: applications, infrastructure and working practices. It is understandable, objective, fact-based, prioritised and transparent. It is just what you need for justifying IT in a recession.

Next: The day Google broke the Internet


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