Looking for City Approval of IT Dollars?
The short answer is: Come prepared.
“Technology advancements have made administering and providing city services so convenient and efficient — for both citizens and staff. Yet no IT project can move forward without adequate funding.”
Serving a second term as a councilwoman and as chairwoman of the Denver City Council’s Technology Services Committee, I’ve seen my share of the city’s information technology proposals.
So what makes some soar and some stumble? Many times it comes down to how the IT department presents the initiative.
Denver, a city of approximately 565,000 people, has a budget in the vicinity of $825 million, of which nearly $42 million goes to IT. Our IT department interacts with the City Council and the administration in several ways. The annual budget- setting process typically runs from June through November and results in the administration determining how much of the pie each department will receive, subject to approval by the council. In addition, several charter requirements can trigger a council review of IT initiatives, such as technology contracts of $500,000 or more and capital expenditures of $50,000 plus.
If you’re a city CIO or IT chief and your city works like most, you likely find yourself looking to city administrators for IT dollars. Although no proposal is guaranteed passage, there are a number of ways to increase your chances for success.
Tailor your pitch to your audience
The best advice here is to keep it simple. From what I have observed, more senior people run for city office. In Denver, for example, officeholders tend to be at the end of their careers, rather than the beginning or middle. Often, these individuals did not grow up with computers. What’s more, some may not be comfortably computer literate, which is why you should avoid technology acronyms in presenting information to them.
When talking about public-works projects — city streetlights, parks and pools — everyone is familiar with the product and knows the benefits. That’s not necessarily so with technology. It’s your job to make your audience comfortable with IT. Keep in mind that if elected officials feel uncomfortable and don’t know what they are being asked to approve, they may rebel.
Don’t balk at the numbers
There’s a good chance your audience may be unfamiliar with the large expenditures it takes to buy and maintain hardware and software. Still, resist the temptation to spoon-feed financial data. It’s best to be truthful and deliver costs in their entirety. Elected officials will be impressed if you disclose more than you have to and discuss possible contingent expenditures.
And when discussing current expenditures, be sure to include required future costs for licensing, maintenance and upgrades. Be clear about what you expect to spend this year, next year and five years from now when you’ll have to upgrade because the current software won’t be supported. Also note what you’ll have to spend for personnel and staff training. It’s important to avoid surprises.
You’ll find elected officials responsive to cost savings achieved through adequate hiring now, instead of expensive emergency consultants later.
Lay out the entire initiative
Be sure to explain how the initiative on the table fits into your entire integrated plan for technology.
This will let public officials and the council’s members look at a proposal and understand, for example, that this is the software contract, here is what the software is used for, these are the departments it affects and here are the benefits reaped from this product.
Consolidate your IT department
Several years back, I and others advocated consolidating our IT team, which was seeded throughout many departments, into a single organization. Mayor John Hickenlooper, who had then just been elected, supported the consolidation despite agency turf concerns. This change offered numerous advantages, including allowing our IT team to speak in one voice when interacting with elected officials and eliminating duplicate hardware, software and staff.