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A Stratagem For Obtaining Funding For Your Projects

My name's Rick Schroeder, and I've been a member of Thwack since 2004.

I manage a health care network of 53,000+ computers across three states, and I've been enjoying using SolarWinds products like NPM, NCM, and NTA to proactively manage "Pure Network Services" across my organization.

In my environment "Pure Networking" means my team supports LAN, WAN, Firewall services, Wireless environments, and VPN solutions.  Our babies are the Edge, Access, Distribution, Core, and Data Center blocks.  We don't directly support user-accessible applications, nor servers or work stations or other end devices--we focus solely on LAN and WAN services, switches, routers, AP's, and firewalls.  This truly makes my team the "D.O.T. for the Info Highway."  Not dealing with edge devices and users and their apps is a luxury, but there's still a LOT of work to do, and I'm always looking for new tools and products that can help my team of six manage more systems in a better way.

When Danielle Higgins asked me to be a Guest Blogger for Thwack I was pleased to share some of my thoughts with you about information SolarWinds has given us to get what we need from Administration.

Sophisticated, powerful and well-developed tools that can improve our customers' experience are not free.  Persuading Administration to allocate budget to purchase them can be an intimidating challenge.  But as Joel Dolisy and Leon Adato explained, it's all about seeing the world from Administration's point of view.   They are featured in a video for the Thwack Mission for August, 2015 called Buy Me a Pony: How to Make IT Requests that Management will Approve - YouTube  SolarWinds has leveraged their knowledge to provide a resource you can use to build a successful pitch for allocating funds to get what you need--and it applies to anything, not just Orion products.

I watched the video and took away a lot of great ideas.  I made notes during the video and then put them together into an e-mail that I shared with my team.  We're using it as a guide for how to improve the network by learning the steps to make a winning presentation for additional resources (tools, people, etc.) to Management.  You can use the same steps and get the progress towards tools and resources you need by using the concepts I've prepared below:

---------------------------

One day you’ll want to champion a new product.  When you make your case for that product, your success depends on focusing on points that Management wants.  Your job is to show them how funding your project will accomplish the things they find important.

Some examples of important items to decision makers:

  • Growth (revenue, market share, etc.).
  • Cost Reduction (improve cash flow, save $$).
  • Risk (Avoid or resolve compliance issues, prevent exposure).

Find out how your new tool will fit the items above, then promote those features.  This simple idea will give you a better chance of getting Administrative approval than if you spend your time describing to them the technical features or coolness of the product.

Target what will get Management’s attention and support. 

Example:  Suppose an e-mail system keeps crashing.  You know replacing it will prevent that issue, so your goal is to buy/install a new e-mail system.  If you can’t convince Management that your project will match their top needs, you won't get quick approval to proceed.

If Management pays most attention to Risk Avoidance, then show them how preventing e-mail crashes reduces Risk.  Show SOX and HIPAA compliance will be much improved by a new e-mail solution and you’re halfway to getting funding for your project.

If Management is concentrating on bottom line issues, show how a new e-mail system will improve cash flow & save money.  Now your pitch is much more likely to receive the right response from them.

If Management pays most attention to Dollars and Growth and Cost Reduction, then learn the cost of e-mail crashes & show them how your recommendation addresses those specific items.  An example:

  • Crashing e-mail services cost money.  Find out how much and show them:
    • X dollars of support staff time per minute of down time and recovery time.  You could do the calculation based industry standard salaries broken down to hours & minutes and show the actual dollar cost of support to recover from an e-mail server crash. Talk about persuasive!
    • 3X dollars in lost new orders as customers fail to get timely responses and turn to the competition because they can’t get responses to their e-mail.
    • 20X dollars in lost order payments that come in via e-mail.
    • 50X dollars in missed opportunities when our competitors get to the customers before us because our e-mail service is down.

Don’t make up facts.  Being honest builds their trust in you and your team.  The key is to create a solution to your problem that not only fixes your issues, but fixes Management’s problems, too.

Remember that telling the down side of a product is not necessarily bad.  If you don’t include the full impact of your project to the business, decision makers may decide your proposal is not yet mature.  They might think "So you’re asking for a free puppy?  And you're not talking about food costs & vet bills and training, etc.?"   That can be the path to a quick denial from them.

When you hear “no”, it may mean:

  • Your pitch is right on, but the timing isn’t good for the company right now due to cash flow issues.
  • You simply haven’t convinced the decision maker yet.
  • You haven’t given the decision maker what they need to successfully take your case to THEIR manager.  They don’t want to look foolish merely because you're enthusiastic about a product; you have to show you really know what you're talking about.  Then they can champion your cause to their boss without being at risk.
  • You haven’t shown how your application or hardware matches the company’s core focus (Risk, Revenue/Growth, Cost, etc.).
  • You haven’t brought data that can be verified, or it’s too good to be true, or it simply is not believable.

If you haven’t shown the downsides, management knows you:

  • Haven’t done due diligence to discover them.
  • Are hiding them.
  • Are caught up in the vendor’s sales pitch so much that you only see what’s shiny, and haven’t thought about (and found) problems with the product.

Your job is to treat “No” as if it only means “not yet.”

“No” does NOT mean:

  • You can’t come back with this again.
  • They're denying it because they don't like/trust you.
  • Your idea is no good.
  • You can’t have it due to politics.

Instead of accepting the denial and feeling you've failed, you can think of “no” as administrators simply saying your cake isn’t completely baked yet.  Your interpretation should be they meant "Once your cake's fully cooked we're interested in having you bring it back for review."

When you hear “no”, ask questions to find out why “no” is the right answer for Administration at the present moment:

  • What must be changed for the outcome to be “yes”?  What is not being heard that is needed?
  • Can we come back at a better time and talk about this again?  When?
  • How can we align the project better with the business focus/goals?
  • Is there a better point in the budget year to look at this?
  • Do we need other in-house skills, maybe an outside contractor, before we tackle this?
  • Do we need a training plan to develop our staff’s skills for the new technology?
  • Can we set up a small-scale demo to show you the product’s merits in-house via a proof-of-concept?

Remember:  There are no “IT Projects”.  There are only Business Projects that IT supports.

Help everyone on your team understand how they must make this project align with the Business’s goals when they present it to peers and administrators.

Example:  Suppose your goal is moving away from Nagios to Orion:

  • Bring the idea to your System Administrators, DBA’s, Apps Analysts--anyone who uses the old product (or who COULD be a candidate to use it)
  • Get their input and wish list, then show them how your new tools will give them better access and insight into their environments' functionality.
  • Ask them what they’re not getting from Nagios, listen carefully and then show them how Orion can provide those specific items to them.
  • Set up a 30 day free demo and then get them excited about what a SHARED tool like Orion can do across the silos.
  • Now you've turned them into supporters for the new project, and they can report positively about it to their managers.

Who is the funding Approver?

The CIO.

Who are the consumers of the new project?

Managers of Apps and Servers.

What part of the decision making process happens outside your view?

The CIO goes to the department Managers for their opinion. But you did your homework and the Managers have already heard great reports about your project from their trusted teams.

Result:  They share the good news to the CIO, and the CIO OK’s the purchase.

It's all about finding how your good idea is ALSO a good idea to the decision makers.  It's a formula for success.

Don’t overdo the presentation. If you want to lose the audience, include every stat, every permutation of dollars and numbers, show them a PowerPoint presentation with more than 10 slides, etc.

Your detailed/extra available information is not appropriate for the initial presentation.  But keep it for answering future queries.

It’s more important the bosses feel comfortable with the solution than it is to overwhelm them with details.

Here are some resources I found on https://thwack.solarwinds.com/‌ that can help you get buy-in from decision makers.  These tools may convince them that your project will make a significant contribution to improving the environment:

  • Feature Function Matrix: 
      • It lists all the features that a great monitoring tool might have.
      • It lets you compare what you have in-house today to what a competitive SolarWinds tool provides.
      • Shows the gap between the services and information you have with an existing product which can be filled with the new SolarWinds product.
      • Lets you identify primary sources of truth.  Example:
        • Suppose you have multiple ping latency measuring tools and you’re not eliminating any of them.
          • The Feature Function Matrix lets you prioritize them.
          • Now you can see which ones are most important, and which tools are backups to the important ones.
  • Sample RFP’s

o   Let you score weights of features.

o   Auto-calculates the information you need to show the decision makers.

o   Allows competitive vendors to show their strengths & cost.

  • In the Geek Speak forum you can find items associated with Cost Of Monitoring.  They might be just what you need to show management, highlight the cost of:

o   Not monitoring.

o   Monitoring with the wrong tool.

o   Monitoring the wrong things.

o   Monitoring but not getting the right notifications.

o   Forgetting to automate the monitoring response.

Here's hoping you can leverage the ideas I've shared to successfully improve your environment.  Remember, these processes can be applied to anything--getting a raise, adding more staff, increasing WAN pipes, improving server hardware, getting a company car--the sky's the limit (along with your creative ways to sell great ideas).

Swift Packets!

Rick S.

37 Comments
MVP
MVP

rschroeder‌ This was one of my favorite videos from this year's ThwackCamp... I recently had to submit budgeting requests for next year, so the video was pretty fresh with me.

Nice write up on it...

wluther‌, thanks!

When it comes to funding, having the tools in your belt is handy!

A few years ago, at a different employer, there came a time when the threat of having my department's funding reduced in a big way was real.

Fortunately our IT Director was extremely savvy in the ways of dealing with committees and Congress (he was a former Colonel in the Air Force, in charge of B1 Bombers in Europe), and he cut through to the heart of the matter quite effectively.  In three simple statements he did the following:

1.  Identified all the services provided by the IT Department.  Each service directly supported every Board members' department.

2.  Defined the amount of money the IT Department was allocated to provide these services.

3.  Asked the Board to define which services they wanted to decrease by their proposed funding cuts.

You could have heard a pin drop.

There were a lot of embarrassed looks, and hemming and hawing, and back peddling at that Board meeting.  When he walked out of the meeting, instead of having half our funding cut for the coming year, we received an additional amount of funds equal to 75% of our current budget, to provide even more and better services.  The new funding would be kept on for years, rather than being a one-time increase.

I took away from that experience the idea that it's important to show your Team's value, and then show how you can improve the company's position internally and externally when the decision makers allocate funds per the IT Department's recommendations.  The key was understanding what was most important to decision-makers, then showing how our department could leverage our skills and new tools to make those important things happen.

Rick S.

Level 14

Excellent... I plan on using serveral of these in my budget prep.

MVP
MVP

rschroeder‌ That is outstanding. Ask the board to tell you which "toys" they want to lose... lol...

Sounds like you lucked out there.

Our SolarWinds environment has a pretty decent grasp into our world now, so it does seem to be a bit easier to get the things I need. At least things that make SolarWinds work, anyway...

Level 12

interesting..

Level 12

Great blog article Rick.  I've spent much of my career in healthcare myself.  In my experience, a department was either "revenue generating" or a "cost center".  You're right on - the challenge is to show the $$ generators how our IT systems enable or enhance their revenue generation.

An idea I've seen bandied about from time to time, is IT billing the other departments for services.  You want that PC installed yesterday, no problem, it's going to cost %50 more for a emergency ... oh, it can wait, great!  You just downloaded 1TB from the Internet ... no problem, that'll be $XXX.  I can see how it would slow down the emergencies and the non-business traffic - but on the other hand, it could open a can of worms when the business unit says their nephew Bubba can install their new system for 75% less than the IT department wants to charge.  I suppose it would cut both ways.

Level 17

Very nice! thanks for the valuable insight.

Every project is a funding nightmare for us.  I feel sorry for our sales rep at SW, I feel like every time he quotes us something, we jerk him around.  Well, I am getting jerked around and I just have to pass it along.

That's unfortunate, bsciencefiction.tv‌.  Although funding's not the battle it might be for my Team, working with SolarWinds' Sales has become quite the challenge in recent years.  Our budget/funding cycle doesn't accommodate SW incentive programs to help their company or sales people meet monthly, quarterly, or annual goals. But they've continued to push those fleeting savings at us despite our requests they not do so.

There's nothing quite like being a customer who was told product X would cost a specific amount, then budgeting for it, buying it, and in a few months hear about savings on the product or for expansions that are five digits or more.  It's a feeling I'd love to never have again . . .

Sales has been our really only complaint in our many years with SW.  Everyone in the company is Silicone Valley, except Sales who is local car lot.

Level 21

Great post!  I think the big take-away's for me here are "focus on how it will benefit your manager (or the person you are needing to convince)" and "don't overdo it, keep it to the point".  All too often I have seen presentations that go in way too many directions and the ultimate point is completely lost, that will definitely work against you here.

Level 12

I think it can be summed up:  no one wants to be sold.  everyone wants help and for their job to be easier.  If someone can show me how to make my job easier and better, that's the product I want ... like SolarWinds.

MVP
MVP

Nice write up...a note if you decide to use statistics in your pitch...since they can be used to convey a message be ready to defend your methods especially if one of the management types can twist your statistics around to show the opposite or invalidate your methods. 

Level 21

Jfrazier‌ great point on the statistics! 

Level 18

I've worked several places where we had internal charge centers and set costs for services. On the one hand, there was *a bit* of the positive - getting people to make rational decisions about the level of service they wanted. But most of the time everyone realized it was all funny-money - taking money out of your right pocket to put it into your left.

The problem with setting up internal "customer-vendor" systems is that it's missing the teeth. In the real world I can, as you point out, find another vendor. It's much harder to say "I'll go with a different accounts payable department". Likewise, as the owner of a small consulting company, I can prohibitively price clients that I don't want to work with. No such luck as an internal IT department.

And because those elements are inherently missing, the whole system ends up being far less effective than anyone wants.

Level 9

This method is proven.
Orion Funding.jpg

Good post rschroeder​!

I always find the key is tailoring the information you share with your key "brokers" is what gets the buy-in process started. Take time to think about what each silo of the business needs, and don't be shy to approach the non-technical teams! You can knock up some really useful dashboards with a bit of custom HTML.

In the past I've created a dashboard that was integrated into an internal SharePoint site to show overall status of specific applications (looking at group status icons, ultimately). This cut down on the number of tickets in to a client service desk, as they had the message to "check the portal site for service status" before logging a ticket. Simple things like this can really improve your chances of getting something approved by any non-tech approvers.

Level 12

Hey Rick, fellow Hospital IT person here. I would love to see how you manage the "unique" situation healthcare IT departments are in right now. With the fed pushing everything digital at warp speed, and the rapidly changing healthcare system, as well as the shrinking budgets. How do you manage to swing the cash pendulum into your favor? We are in the midst of building an entirely new facility that will open in 2Q of 2018, and we are having to fight tooth and nail to get even the simplest of things right now.

Perfect example is fire suppression in our main data center. They want to cut it out and save $35k, because the data center will have a sprinkler system in it already. Our counter argument has been, if that sprinkler system goes off, you lose everything in that room, and that would cost a lot more then $35k to get back up and running. They don't seem to be biting on that though.

Another good example. They want to wire the new facility with cat5e because its cheaper then cat6.

The company we are dealing with for this is beating us on a regular basis. We are starting to feel like Rocky, just without the comeback win at the end. I think out biggest problem is we have no C Level IT exec. We only have our IT Director. Our C Level rep is the CFO and we all know how well that goes!

Sparda, you have a tough position.  When I'm in a tough position that is untenable I find several options:

  • Appeal to a True Authority.  This classic  Debate technique lets recognized authorities support your case, instead of you carrying it all on your lonely shoulders.  In this case, you have several groups of experts who actually created the standards that support your case:
    • The Uptime Institute's Tier Standard
    • ANSI/TIA 942 as modified by UI
    • EN 50600
    • IEEE
    • The consultants who designed your project
  • Become familiar with these guides as best as you are able.  If you can't find your excellent rationales for doing the job right with these groups, (and you WILL be able to do so), then you can cut through to the heart of the matter (from a CFO's point of view) and Appeal To The Bottom Line
    • When an accountant is in charge of a project they'll do what they do best--track assets and liabilities, and use their power to keep things in the black.
    • An appropriate budget should have been approved prior to starting, and I hope it included all that is needed to do the job correctly, whether CAT6 cabling or data-center-grade fire suppression.
    • It is NOT the accountant's job to cut costs by replacing standards with obsolete technologies, like CAT6 swapped out for inadequate CAT5e.  There's a reason the rest of the world is doing the job the way the designers recommend:  No one wants problems in the future that will require recabling the entire facility--which could become mandatory in two years after you waste much time you discovering problems are being caused by throughput limited by CAT5e resulting in your inability to serve your customers' needs.  They'll take their business elsewhere, or your company will fall behind the competition because you don't have the required bandwidth at the most basic level.
    • That goes double for fire suppression.  When faced with the choice of saving their hardware and data versus losing it all, no customer is going to say "Naw, I'd rather pay less and lose everything during a fire."  Doing it right is what you budgeted for.  Ending up with sub-standard deployments that cost five to twenty-five times the initial installation to correct is what the accountant is supposed to support, and that means they must support you and the initial design.  If they happen to throw "The Cloud" in your face as a way to avoid expensive fire suppression, there's lots to learn about Cloud vendor's solutions and fire suppression and data security and costs.  It's one way to do things, but not the best way for many companies.  And it wasn't designed into your solution.  Stay the course that you designed and budgeted, follow the plan, or your CFO is planning to fail.
    • Management must trust their experts, even as the employees trust Management to be competent.  You don't tell them how to strike a balance on a T-Sheet, and they must not tell you how to future proof your data center.  It's important for them to trust your experts (you and the designers in this case) to do the best for the company.  Follow through with the budget and the design, leverage your CFO's skills to keep the project from going over budget, and all will be well if the design and budget were correct.  Hopefully you received some excellent advice and design plans from experienced and reputable consultants!
Level 12

I see where you are coming on a lot of this. The problem is, its the designer and the company we are working with right now that is pushing a lot of this stuff. They keep citing the budget as the reason for needing to cut all the corners, with no regard as to how it will actually change how things work, or in a lot of cases not work as a result of it.

Then appeal to an authority.  Push the designer/contractor to prove that you won't need more bandwidth tomorrow, and won't have to replace their CAT5 with CAT6.

Show them where their design contradicts BICSI's Green Field recommendations.

Make them give current examples of sites that contravene the ANSI/TIA 942 standard.

If they can't do that, they've got no business making your project fail in the future by cutting future-proofing today.

Finally, if they still won't do the job the right way, require an accounting of how much money was saved on each line item that went against the advice of the industry's experts.  Then get an estimate for how much more it will cost in two years to replace their cost-cutting work, and estimate how much negative impact will be caused to your company and its clients by their cheap work.

Level 20

Ricky really knows how to write a lot!

Guilty, as charged.  ;^)

pastedImage_0.png

I think Fry's meme hits it pretty well.

My apologies for the quantity--I hope you find some quality mixed in with the freely flowing thoughts.

Level 12

sparda963​ and rschroeder​ - ex-healthcare IT for 18 years here .... I'd also weigh in that particularly in healthcare - you're either a revenue-producer or a cost-center.  In my experience in healthcare - the revenue-producers are the ones who get investment in new tech and equipment, and the cost-centers are the ones who have to scrape, scrounge, re-purpose, duct-tape, etc. 

If you can do some kind of analysis, or change your methods, so you generate revenue, you may have more success in funding.  Or if you can show how your infrastructure directly supports systems which generate more revenue.  One such area is digital-radiology.  Many hospitals I see now, as a patient, already have this.  But back in 2000'ish, I was at a new hospital which was just installing it.  And bandwidth was a major concern for the system (Agfa PACS) - so, someone sold them (before I got involved) on ... ATM ... (obviously the wrong move for a LAN ... )  But the point is, someone bought some expensive Fore Systems/Marconi gear, basically to support that one revenue generating system - the digital radiology system.  Another option I've heard, but never seen in the real world, is different departments charging usage for their gear - like per packet.  Basically, like a US cell phone company, who has a flat rate customers get charged, then if they go over bandwidth, they pay more.  Or heck, you could even do what the carriers want to to do, and put in QoS, and charge for different tiers of service. <evil grin>.  Then, the "free" connections, really are 10 half ....

Another approach, is to get some real "risk analysis".  You write, or someone else writes, a real risk analysis - where you show all the risks, how likely they are to happen, how much they'll cost to mitigate, and then you make decisions appropriately.  This is usually done for things like the sprinklers in the data center (side note - I've personally seen fire systems set off for non-fire situations - like drilling into a concrete sub-floor to install new telecom racks and generating dust, which set off smoke detectors - imagine that triggering sprinklers and taking out your data center ...), but you could also write a risk analysis for putting in sub-standard old technology, and what's the risk to the business that in a few months (24 months has more impact than 2 years) technology will have advanced, that your system you put in only a few months ago, and is still depreciating in accounting's books, now has to be ripped out and replaced at 10x the original expense if it had only been put in originally .... a few months ago.  If the risk analysis is rejected, and the riskier system implemented, or the mitigation is ignored, and the projected risk is realized, and people are looking for scalps ... you can pull your "get out of jail free card" ... I mean "risk analysis" out, and show it to the scalp hunters.

Hope this helps.

Level 12

LOL ... I just realized, I replied again, with the same thought I wrote a year ago .... DOH!!!

Level 9

Great Post it still feels like no matter what we do we cant get the funding we need

Level 11

Glad I came across this. Thanks for the write up!

Level 14

Always good to show them what they will have to lose if they cut budgets.  Hit them where it hurts and if they think it is a bluff, really turn stuff off.  It's amazing how quickly the money appears.

Level 9

The translation to revenue/cost is a little difficult in my business sector, government. The key is risk and avoidance. You hit the nail on the head rschroeder​ with showing the money person the impact. Many of my request show what would happen if we do nothing. THe other key way I present (ok, beg) for items is to approach it tiered. Here's the Porsche, Honda, Fiat. Make your choice, but performance and features are a trade off.

The tiered approach does have its place, but I always temper the less-expensive tiers with the dangers they come with.

I NEVER present them in any format that associates one of them with a top-of-the-line product brand.  That's because bean counters and C-level folks are very sensitized to public relations and the terms that can generate a poor impression.  No matter whether U.S. or European or Asian, when I present tiers I don't use a luxury/high-end brand/model, so Finance and Accounting types don't get the idea I'm advocating a Rolls-Royce/Lincoln/Cadillac/Porsche/Lamborghini as the best solution.

Instead, I couch it in terms of reduced costs for the organization.  Example:

Needs Improvement: "I want the most expensive, Rolls-Royce solution, because that's what's best for the organization."

Better: "I recommend Option 1 because it has the best return on our investment.  It decreases Help Desk calls by 20%, its improved efficiencies let Team X get more done with fewer people, and it has the best up-time statistics for our business.  And we want our equipment to be up with Five 9's, right?"

You may get the better product if you can honestly prove its benefits offset the additional up-front costs.

Never create slanted or false statistics or statements just to get the product you prefer.  Know why you prefer it, and be able to justify it objectively.  Have the honest truth about why the product is better at your side, and they you'll be ready to prove your statements and justify your opinion for getting the better tier of products.

Level 9

Ahh, you gave a much more detailed example. But yes, when I say features, I do mean trade offs, functionality, pros and cons. Trying to get the non-geek and bean counters to realize why products are not equal is the goal in many of my presentations. I really hate when a decision is made solely on cost.

Level 14

Always present the benefits.  Features can be used to demonstrate the benefits but the bean counters need to think it is value for money / best value / justifiable expenditure etc.  I always find what I want and then present cheaper but less benefit options as well as more expensive with better benefits.  Position the expensive one as the one I want and let them think they have won when they only let me have the middle one.  I get what I want and they are happy.  It's a ridiculous game but you have to play it.

MVP
MVP

Very good article, but my favorite part is: There are no “IT Projects”.  There are only Business Projects that IT supports.

If we can each remember this the transformation would be amazing. So often we find ourselves engrossed in our mindset and forget that there are so many others.

MVP
MVP

Nice article

Level 13

Great post rschroeder  Can't believe I hadn't seen this one before.  Must have been snoozing.  Came up in the most liked feed this morning and I'm glad it did.

Thank you, df112​.  I wasn't aware there was a "most liked feed" view to check.  Something for me to look into.  Thanks for setting me off on another wonderful Thwack tangent!

Level 13

I went back and checked - it's on the right side of Geek Speak below the fold. "Top Rated Content".  That's even better than most liked.

About the Author
I grew up in Forest Lake, Minnesota in the 1960's, enjoying fishing, hunting, photography, bird watching, church, theater, music, mini-boggan, snowmobiling, neighborhood friends, and life in general. I've seen a bit, have had my eyes opened more than once, and tend not to make the same mistakes twice. Reinventing the wheel is not my preference, and if I can benefit from someone else's experience, that's good all the way around. If someone can benefit from my experience, it's why I share on Thwack.