How to make your budget case

Justify yourself to the budget committee - here's how.

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Even before the current IT budget crunch, spending on routine upgrades and maintenance monopolized 90% of total IT spending-having just 10% of the pie for innovative, strategic projects. Getting funding on new IT initiatives is harder than ever today, when projects exceeding $100,000 routinely require CEO approval, according to a recent Ernst and Young study. Even smaller IT initiatives face intense scrutiny and head-to-head competition...

for dollars. That's a far cry from the unbridled budgets of just two years ago, when IT spending peaked at 46.7% of all business investments. To get their share of dollars, storage administrators need to tackle the age-old budget battles with a new blend of business savvy and financial metrics.

Cost benefit analysis for storage solutions
The first step in the budgeting process is to perform a cost-benefit analysis of individual storage projects, assessing the required capital and resource investment, along with the expected benefits. This analysis should be calculated over a three or five year analysis period. Key financial metrics include:

Return on Investment (ROI)-the ratio of the project's net benefits divided by the costs

Net Present Value (NPV) Savings-the net savings of the project brought into today's dollar terms

Internal Rate of Return (IRR)-the effective interest rate return the project's cash flows will deliver

Payback Period-how quickly the project's benefits exceed the costs, achieving cash flow positive

Initial and Cumulative Investment-the level of required commitment the company must make with regard to resources and capital

Project Risk-the schedule, budget and resources risk for achieving a successful project and predicted costs/returns

Traditional cost-benefit analysis has proved its worth for decades in corporate decision-making, but IT projects are substantially different than other capital investments. On average, technology investments have not always been as successful as other company investments because many IT projects are mandatory or strategic in nature-whereby traditional financial analysis can often overlook or discount the projects value to the company.

In a Y2K survey on IT projects by the Standish Group, only 28% of IT projects - a dismal one in four - could be considered a success: completed on time, within budget and meeting expected features and functionality. The number of successful projects exceeded the number of canceled projects by a mere 5%.

Because IT projects are inherently risky, a risk analysis should be used to discount the business case.

Also, not every IT project is justified based on quantifiable benefits. Often, IT projects are partially justified on their capability to deliver intangible or strategic benefits that are difficult-if not impossible-to quantify into absolute monetary terms.

The impact of projects that deliver branding, competitive, organizational and strategic advantage is measurable with key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs can include capability and maturity scores, customer satisfaction ratings, market share and position and quality rankings. By quantifying the intangible benefits, the project's strategic impact on the company can be predicted and later measured for success.

Strategically, you'd be wise to compare internal spending plans to those of peers - this competitive benchmark can be extremely advantageous in making the case for new investment.

Making the business case
With fierce internal competition for funding, even the most valuable IT projects will be evaluated alongside other non-IT company initiatives. The best investments balance high returns with low investment requirements and risk.

The key is to sell a project's strengths, both in what it delivers and how it calibrates bottom-line value. There are three things to keep in mind when making the case for any new spending:

  1. Show how the project will improve the overall value of IT.
  2. Identify whether this investment enable staff to do more with less.
  3. Effectively communicate the financial impact of project plans and the decision-making criteria on project selections to all stakeholders.
Of course, much of the storage budget will be dedicated to accommodating day-to-day needs. But many storage initiatives, such as consolidation projects, can represent enormous savings, infrastructure improvements and even strategic advantage for companies of all sizes, so the trick is to get funding for maintenance as well as innovation.

In a tight market, this requires a mixture of bottom-line ROI analysis and a forest-level view of how proposed storage spending will fit into the overall IT portfolio.

The key to communicating the business case for your projects is using time-tested financial metrics that the CFO will recognize. Which metrics you emphasize depends on the nature of your project-what's the main business goal? All projects should be grouped into one of four funding buckets:

  • Reducing IT costs
  • Improving business efficiency
  • Driving strategic advantage
  • Mandatory projects
Reducing IT costs
The following examples illustrate the merits of typical kinds of projects for each category above, with formulas for determining potential cost savings. In some cases, projects simply hold the budget steady under increasing demands. Projects that drive productivity, reallocate IT operations and labor resources to more strategic projects and reduce capital spending on IT infrastructure fall into this category.

Increasing administrative productivity. Consolidating direct-attached storage to either a SAN or a NAS solution helps reduce the storage administration workload, as well as capital spending on storage growth and backup system upgrades.

Storage Administration Productivity= (current storage administrator FTEs x burdened annual salary of storage administrators) x productivity improvement from new solution

Avoiding additional storage investments. Storage Resource Management (SRM) initiatives can free valuable storage capacity, automate key administrative tasks, reduce storage growth needs and implement policies to assure resource availability.

Storage Purchase Avoidance=(current storage x expected growth) x expected savings with new solution

Reducing IT operations expenses. One example of such a project is a conversion to managed storage services. They provide completely managed storage capacity on a demand basis, delivering predictable growth pricing, best practices management and elimination of in-house resources for the management and support of the storage infrastructure.

IT Operation Savings=Storage growth costs + Storage Administration Staff Costs x % outsourced + Support Costs x % outsourced

Improving operating efficiency
These projects enhance users' productivity by eliminating storage-related downtime and help business units reduce operating costs and mitigate expenses on capital equipment, supplies or other services.

Reducing downtime. Consolidation, mirroring and snapshots, managed services or best practices implementations help to improve availability-reducing unplanned or scheduled downtime and resultant lost productivity. Incremental benefits here can be considerable.

Downtime Risk Avoidance=(current downtime hours per year - expected downtime hours with new solution) x typical number of users affected per outage x burdened user salary per hour

Reducing risk of data loss. Improved backup coverage and better restores increase the reliability of client or server data, either eliminating or reducing the potential recovery time for lost data, with the attendant lost productivity.

Reduced Data Loss/Recovery Risk=(data not effectively protected each year x risk percentage of data loss in a given year x value of data or cost of recovery) x reduction in risk from new solution

Driving strategic advantage
These initiatives help improve or protect a company's sales and revenue, and can pose the biggest challenge in the funding process. Storage-related projects can enable new business or service opportunities, protect mission-critical data from loss and guard against unplanned outages affecting revenue-generating applications.

Avoiding the risk of downtime. Achieving 99.999% availability for an e-business site through enterprise networked storage, remote mirroring and snapshot projects protects business transactions and eliminates the potential for lost sales and revenue-not to mention customer loyalty. The cost of downtime will vary depending on the application (see "Application downtime costs vary").

Downtime savings=(current downtime hours per year - expected downtime hours per year with new solution) x downtime business hours per year

Enabling a new business capability. Storage is a key component of an enhanced customer service-oriented application, such as providing personalized real-time frequent business data updates, rather than when time permits a large data processing and transfer. The new storage architecture improves customer satisfaction and could even enable new market or business opportunities.

New Business Capability=(number of new customers from new business/features + number of additional retained existing customers as a result of new features if any) x value per customer

Mandatory projects
These are less negotiable because they're required for legal compliance or are simply essential to the business. Good discipline still demands a consistent ROI analysis, which will ensure accountability when performance is measured. A rigorous ROI methodology will also highlight potential inefficiencies.


Application downtime costs vary
DOWNTIME
LOSSES BY
APPLICATION
TYPICAL LOSS
PER MINUTE OF
UNPLANNED DOWNTIME
Financial/Trading $40,000
Supply chain $10,000
ERP $10,000
CRM $8,000
E-commerce $8,000
E-business $8,000
Business application $5,000
Database $5,000
Messaging $1,000
Infrastructure $700

Avoiding risk. For 24x7 environments, where downtime is not an option, solid disaster recovery capabilities are necessary.

Risk Avoidance=(probability of disaster in given year x disaster cost + additional brand/business impact) x percentage risk reduction or recovery time savings with solution

Avoiding risk of noncompliance. Storage infrastructure is a critical component of compliance projects such as HIPAA or Gramm-Leach-Bliley, where non-compliance carries legal penalties.

Compliance Risk Avoidance=(fine from non-compliance x risk of fine + business/brand impact damage) x percentage risk reduction

Look outside
Presenting new initiatives with a strong peer comparison helps ensure best-in-class corporate performance-a top-of-mind issue for CEOs, CFOs and boards of directors. In many ways, this is the next frontier of strategic budget planning. Benchmarking proposed spending against similarly sized companies in the same industry, with similar business models, assures competitive awareness. It also makes it more difficult to slash the budget based on an arbitrary industry-accepted percentage of company revenue.

The cyclical nature of the budget process requires a long-term view and a closed-loop process. Understanding and communicating the business value that storage brings to the equation is a critical first step to getting necessary financial support. Once the investment is made, the real work begins. Tracking a project and its ability to deliver as promised, brings accountability, provides an opportunity for adjustment and reinforces the message to the CFO and team that their concerns are being heard and heeded.

Storage administrators who learn now how to draw a direct line between investment and business value-both in the heated struggle of the budget process and long after the money has been spent, will find that next year's budget battle will be much easier.

This was first published in November 2002

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