At the start of our enterprise cost containment series
, Leon examined what cost containment is and why IT pros should care. Basically, you should care how your projects and work affect the business’s bottom line and should understand enough about it that you can communicate effectively with management. Even though you may not think about the business in this way most of the time, it directly affects your job. To directly quote Leon, “business leaders, to the very last one, are only interested in three things: how to increase revenue, reduce cost, and/or remove risk. If a request doesn’t address how it impacts one (or more) of those three things, it will be an uphill battle the entire way.”
This time, we’ll address cost containment when it comes to projects with professional services and/or staff augmentation. What this means, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is you’re outsourcing part or all of a project. This can be anything from hiring a vendor (or contractor) to configuring your new Cisco Nexus switches to outsourcing an entire project (like building your help desk application) and everything in between. There are many reasons you may be looking to purchase these services—you may not have the skill set on hand, you may not have the time, or you may not be able to prioritize it over other needs based on workload, for example.
What’s the Challenge?
As an IT pro, you may be struggling with getting approval for these projects (or in some cases, convincing management to discontinue one of these services). Part of a business’s responsibilities, as we try to beat the drum on, is cost containment. This requires constant reassessment of existing IT cost
as well as assessment for new projects. Many businesses constantly look for places to cut costs, so it may not be difficult to convince them to discontinue a service or contractor. However, sometimes you run across the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, which may require some innovative thinking and persuasion to overcome.
If you’re under pressure or passionate about the project, it can color your interaction with management. This can often have a negative effect on management’s view of the project. Being passionate about your work can also favorably affect the decision to spend the money on the necessary resources (in this case, professional services) when presented well. Often, though, we let our stress or other emotions color the tone, language, and attitude in which we present issues, especially when faced with questions or challenges from stakeholders or management staff.
A further challenge is overcomplicating the presentation of data to acquire funding for the project. For many IT pros, when questioned or challenged, their instinct is to present more data and go into further technical detail. Continual questioning can lead to further and further technical detail to help management understand. But most of the time, this leads to deeper confusion for the manager, a false sense of confidence in your ability to do the task yourself, or having the entire project canceled out of a false understanding it’s not necessary.
What Can You Do?
First, assess the true needs of the project.
This is the technical part, so I’m sure this is familiar to you, but I want to stress that you should assess all available avenues for meeting those needs. For instance, if your issue is you don’t have the necessary skill on hand, then you should present information on cost for hiring a contractor, hiring a new full- or part-time position (if it’s a long-term need), training an in-house employee, etc. One of the benefits of professional services is you can have an employee shadow them and can include some training for upkeep.
Next, when presenting the project to management, keep it as simple as possible.
In terms of cost, also ensure you’re presenting how this will positively affect the business’s bottom line—with numbers, if possible. If you can show you can spend a little now to save a lot later or that the project will make money after it’s complete, it’ll be seen more favorably. Be prepared to answer questions with a calm tone, simplified language (unless it’s a technical question), and hard data. If you don’t have the answer right then and there, give a realistic time frame for getting the answer to the question—don’t dismiss it, and don’t forget to follow up.
Let’s look at a scenario you might run into—let’s say your company has matured and grown enough that it’s time to consolidate and improve your monitoring. You’ve been tasked with building the servers, standing up the software, and configuring the monitoring. Some of your goals are to completely replace existing home-grown monitoring applications, find gaps in existing monitoring, and build dashboards to correlate related data. Now, imagine this monitoring software is something you’ve never used before. You’re a SysAdmin, so you can build the servers—given appropriate specs—and you have no problem installing software. However, if you’ve never seen this monitoring software before (or perhaps never used any monitoring software), you have a learning curve ahead of you.
It’s also probably a safe assumption that you have limited bandwidth to spare. This could be a good opportunity to bring in additional personnel who can focus on this initiative. When you make your case to management, ensure you cover all the benefits you’ll gain from hiring a contractor. You may even be able to negotiate with the vendor to have them assist with the initial setup, although ideally you’re implementing a network monitoring
tool built for ease of use. You’ll also gain the added benefit of being able to shadow and liaise with the contractor during their term of engagement with your company, and you can negotiate a warm handoff at the end to ensure you have the tools and knowledge you need to support and grow this monitoring solution moving forward. Another positive aspect of bringing in a contractor for this work is you can keep your attention somewhat divided, focusing on your normal day-to-day responsibilities as well as shadowing the contractor. This will mean less hardship on other areas of IT that would’ve been put off or taken more time if your focus was solely on this project.
In your pitch, focus on how this is going to drive business forward. Illustrate how the cost of professional services now is going to save time and money later—use real dollar amounts if you can. This is especially key if you have multiple large projects ongoing or other critical projects you otherwise might have to put off to tackle this project alone. In our example, factor in the licensing, subscription, and other costs of the myriad systems you use into the cost savings for replacing them sooner rather than later. If your existing solutions don’t automate remediation but will by the end of the engagement with this contractor, then you should be able to illustrate the resolution time saved and money the business can save (in the hundreds or thousands of dollars) by fixing these issues automatically.
Thanks for joining me on this look into cost containment with regard to hiring professional services. We hope this information changes the way you approach these conversations, gets you the help you need, and helps make everyone involved as happy as they can be.