Tech Insights: Five Tips For Effective IT Budgeting

Daniel Kaplan

How does your organization budget for technology?

If you’re like most small, local governments across New Hampshire, you’re probably quick to call the repair person after a computer breaks down or a mobile device, copier, printer, scanner or anything else connected to the IT system, stops working. But it’s just as likely that you view technology, and the need to pay for it, as a necessary evil.

“So many see IT solely as a cost item,” says Ryan Barton, president of Mainstay Technologies, a company based in Laconia and Manchester that provides IT services to small businesses, governments and school districts that have limited IT departments, or none at all. “They lack the vision about what it can do for them, and it’s reflected in the budget.”

In the for-profit world, it’s common knowledge that technology saves time and money. Small local governments, on the other hand, are likely to minimize IT’s role, lumping the IT budget in the same line with office supplies and leaving IT planning and purchasing decisions to the various departments.

“Small towns tend not to see the value of planning for IT,” Barton says. “Too often, they take the amount budgeted the previous year and roll it forward.”

Barton maintains that centralized budgeting rather than the more commonly used scattershot approach is better: when individuals in an organization work as a team, they can “harness the power” of technology, a force that promotes efficiencies and saves money.

“Technology helps us do more with less,” Barton says.

It all begins with planning.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a town with five employees or 500. The same planning strategies will allow a local government, or any organization, to better leverage technology and reap the rewards.

“You need to be intentional with IT,” Barton says, offering the following five tips for IT budgeting:

    1. Recognize that budgets are a planning tool, and IT benefits significantly from the planning process.

    2. Start looking forward instead of only backwards: Employ the tried-and-proven lessons of the for-profit world and reap the rewards.

    3. At budget time, review contracts, including those with Internet providers, IT service providers, web hosting and more. Review your PC replacement plan. Also, schedule a system audit, a full review of IT systems.

    4. Centralize your IT budget and planning. Keep department-specific software or hardware in the various department budgets if you must, but create a central IT budget that incorporates IT planning throughout the organization.

    5. Itemize budget components such as hardware replacements, service and labor costs, projects and upgrades, and renewals including software and website support, antivirus programs, GIS and more.

Barton sums it up by making another plug for planning.

“By asking better questions and by thinking ahead, you can make a dramatic impact,” he says.

Daniel Kaplan is the Chief Information Officer at the New Hampshire Local Government Center. He can be reached at dkaplan@nhlgc.org or 603.320.3352.