31 May 2012

How not to set your IT budget

If you have read my posts in the past, you will know that I advocate the use of the following formula for determining the ROI for any given improvement project (whether IT-related or not):

Incidentally, where there is no change in I (Investment, including changes in inventory) or the change in I is negative, then projects can be compared based on profit alone. That formula is simply:
Profit = delta-T – delta-OE.

However, here’s what far too many IT project’s ROI calculations look like:

ROI (don’t know) = ((never took time to estimate it) – (never took time to calculate it)) / $200,000
The only figure the company knows going into the project is the estimated “investment” or “cost” of the project.

The common excuse

The common excuse for not calculating an ROI for an improvement project is that changes in Throughput and changes in Operating Expenses are “too hard to estimate,” and “if they are estimated, they will be wrong anyway.”

This argument is specious on the face of it. Think about it!
The $200,000 estimated “cost” or “investment” value of the project is likely to be wrong, too. But that does not keep the CIO and CFO from making their best efforts to calculate that value.

The Real Reason

Of course, the real reasons that CIOs and CFOs do not take time to calculate a real and measurable ROI for their IT (and other) improvement projects is likely two-fold:
  1. Too many CFOs and CIOs are under the wrongheaded impression that the value of IT (or other improvements) is both “automatic” and “cannot be measured.” When it comes to new technologies they have succumbed to the strange notion that new technologies are like an engine additive for business—you just pour them in and somehow your business will run smoother, faster, longer and get higher mileage! And, just like people who buy engine additives, they never take time to calculate whether there was any real benefit from using the product.
  2. They have never taken time to actually determine what root-cause they are attacking with the IT (or other) improvement project, so they do not really know whether the project will actually lead to increased Throughput or will, in fact, drive down or hold the line on Operating Expenses. In fact, they probably do not even know what the “weakest link” is in their customer-to-cash stream or whether that weakest link is internal to their organization or whether it lies somewhere outside their organization in their supply chain.
Isn’t it time to stop that kind of folly? Can businesses still expect to thrive and grow without taking a sound look at how and why they are spending their most valuable resources—time, energy and money?

I don’t think so.



Deepak Nagar said...

Simple thumb rule is to look for IT solutions that support the 2-4 steps in the 5 focusing steps:

2. Decide how to exploit the constraint.

3. Subordinate every thing else to the above decision

4. Elevate the constraint.

Any other IT investment only adds value to massaging the CTO / CIO hubris.

RDCushing said...

Deepak, you are, of course, absolutely correct. Thank you for your comment.