Align IT pitches with corporate strategies

There was an upside to the Y2K scare. The real or perceived threat of a technomeltdown provided the perfect excuse for IT managers to procure equipment and consulting services without much resistance from bottom-line-minded executives and bean counters. Today, however, Y2K is just a blip in the rearview mirror, and justifying new technology expenditures requires a much different approach and strategy.

An increased emphasis on return on investment, plus other disaster recovery considerations following Sept. 11, have added challenges for forward-looking technology strategists. But knowing how to pitch your request and understanding the concerns of the decision-maker who can decide its fate is now just as important as the request itself. So in this economy, and as companies begin putting together their budgets for next year, knowing your company’s strategy and aligning IT with it can help you immensely when you ask for money.

I’m in the process of implementing collaboration software that real estate brokers at my company, Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co., can use to provide round-the-clock Internet-based support to our sellers and potential buyers. I considered the options of internally writing the software or outsourcing it. Regardless of the technology decision, my first priority was to establish a case of need to garner support for the project. This was a project that could be classified as “nice to have,” not as a “must have.”

Marcus & Millichap has been in the commercial real estate investment brokerage business for 31 years. Introducing these new processes would require change and redefine the way our firm could conduct business in the future. But because collaboration software doesn’t have a proven track record, this project and its implementation cost (which could have exceeded US$275,000) was a difficult case to present. This had been an optional project in my budget for several years. But only recently did I find a vendor that I believed could make the project a reality. So my job was to obtain approval and the funds.

To secure buy-in from the business units, I faced a challenge in having to explain my vision to an audience that, four years ago, barely understood what the Internet was. I pitched the project to management, brokers and a few clients, painting a vision of round-the-clock client service with a competitive edge. To gain the CFO’s approval, I needed to present a case with as little upfront cost and long-term risk as possible. The vendor played a very important role by agreeing to work with us to ensure that everything worked to our satisfaction before we paid. The vendor was taking a big risk, but it provided a strong guarantee that the product wasn’t being misrepresented. I used one of the vendor’s business partners to make implementation easier and provide on-the-job training to our people.

Finally, it was necessary to commit, schedule and transport already overtaxed IT staffers to a very short, 30-day time frame for implementation, testing and acceptance, which included scheduling and transportation for training.

The ROI? Developing the software in-house would have cost the same but taken six months. Since the collaboration software was off-the-shelf, we were able to install it in a few days. And by subscribing to the maintenance agreement, we were assured that fixes and enhancements, along with the vendor’s support, were in place. We had a chance to go to production and market quickly, catching our rivals off guard and giving us a competitive edge.

Having received full funding and the green light, we’re in the final stage of our month-long project. By taking short, specific steps in proposing this project and customizing presentations to various audiences, I increased my chances of securing funds.

The lesson here? It’s critical that you fully understand your company’s business plan and design your IT department’s strategy, vision and budgets to support it. That will align IT with the firm’s overall strategy and development plans, enhancing your chances for approval when it’s time to propose a critical project.

Peltz is CIO and first vice-president at Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Brokerage Co. in Encino, Calif. Contact him at [email protected].

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