Recession: There

As companies tighten their purse strings, IT has to get increasingly wily to keep the enterprise running. Monitoring your projects and initiatives will allow you to get better ROI from those precious IT dollars. Forrester Research Inc.‘s week of panel discussions on how IT can thrive in a weak economy lets you in on seven ways you can use metrics to keep the C-level execs happy and do more than keep the lights on.

1) Communicate better

One blunder IT managers make is not communicating the state of IT operations very well, said Alex Cullen, vice-president and research director with Forrester. “IT executives often try and either hide the costs, or they wallow in the technical details, baffling the business side.”

Executive buy-in is important, so it’s best to have them take part in formulating IT goals. (It’s not their job, however, to micromanage the metrics, so they should stay out of the long-term project management except for regular updates.)

“You need to figure out how to map IT metrics into business metrics that the executives will care about,” said Cullen. “You should start at the high level and relate IT activities to overall strategic spending and make changes according to those.”

2) Tell the truth

IT managers can be sneaky when it comes time to dole out the budget, according to principal analyst Khalid Kark, leading many to tell tall tales. He said, “They’ll often try to inflate the budget, but that’s not the right way to do it.”

Another pitfall? The company won’t give out very much money if they can’t see where it’s all going—and in a way that makes sense to them. So it’s important to word any budget proposals in a truthful, simple manner that is straightforward to everyone, techie and non-techie alike.

3) Don’t be cranky

In tough times like these, IT can feel especially put upon when it comes to business demands and tempted to shoot down ideas. Said Chip Gliedman, vice-president and principal analyst: “IT is beginning to say no to everything they can, in an immediate reaction to the lack of resources. They are becoming more insular, and are getting away from doing new things—their natural instinct is to look at their own world, not tying things to the business. This is counterproductive.”

4) Draft simple metrics

It’s a good idea to stick to a simple formula, making it easy to track you progress and success levels over the long term without getting bogged down in complicated formulas. Gliedman suggests a statement of purpose like “We are doing X to make X better as measured by X, which is worth X.”

Said Gliedman: “From there, you just need to constantly reinforce how this project does to increase business value.”

Even a simple formula goal, business ROI question and metric should keep IT managers on the right track, said analyst Mary Gerush.

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5) Track your progress

Any time IT projects are discussed, they should be judged against the original goals and success metrics, said Gliedman: “You should have constant status reports so that you can stay focused and continually reinforce that business linkage.”

When checking on the metrics, questions to ponder, said Gerush, include, “How is this delivering business value? Did we meet the original business case? And how is this supporting successful business results?”

6) Savour short-term successes

As IT budgets get whittled away, execs will clamour more and more for IT projects that reap real value. One way to give the business more bang for their buck is to look to setting up more short-term projects—the metrics that come out of these, if successful, look especially good, and pump value back into the company quickly, according to Cullen, who suggested that IT staffers suggest this option to CEOs who might not be aware there is such a short-and-sweet option when it comes to IT.

Cullen said, “Only protect a project if the business sees the urgency of it. What moves innovation are smaller capital outlays. You could do a pilot approach, or segment projects into regular paybacks. Just get something quick going.”

7) Stay positive with your staffers

“Implementing metrics is a cultural issue,” Greush said. “So you need the buy-in from people affected by these new processes. Just make sure there is visibility and clarity to the new metric initiatives so that everyone knows why it’s being done and what is being tracked, as well as how it helps the department.”

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