Beware the End-of-Year Budget Rush

Coming upon Q4, our subscribers sometimes ask for advice about the surprisingly common dilemma of use-it-or-lose-it budgeting. Specifically, "We have budget funds we need to spend, or at least obligate, before the year is out." Of course, not every organization's fiscal year ends in December, but even so, the New Year often becomes a deadline for program milestones and personal objectives.

Just Don't Do It

The almost universal temptation is to rush to complete a big technology purchase. In many cases, this entails buying a piece of software and possibly some hardware to go with it. Or for a new SaaS/hosted solution, rushing to pre-pay for a year's worth of service.

This is almost always a bad idea:

  • You risk making the wrong choice
    When you select enterprise technology in a hurry, you have a much higher risk of making a poor choice. When that happens, at best you start the whole effort off on the wrong foot; at worst you can fail outright.
  • You'll pay more up front
    Vendor salespeople talk about end-of-quarter and end-of-year incentives, but in reality, when you are in a hurry, and they sense it, you simply won't get as good a deal.
  • You'll miss the critical benefits of an education-oriented process
    Making a decision in a hurry -- even if it's not a bad one -- removes opportunities to involve and educate key stakeholders so that they can help socialize the rationale for the choice and advocate early on for success.
  • You'll probably lose time
    If you buy technology well in advance of being able to implement it, you risk the dreaded "shelfware" problem, losing the crucial momentum you win by preparing to roll right from technology selection into iterative builds and adoption.
  • You might blow out next year's budget
    By now you probably know that for most enterprise projects, capital expenditures typically make up only 10-25% of the overall spend. To be successful, you need to account for the major long-term costs of implementing, maintaining, and enhancing key systems. Buying software now becomes an invitation to spend a lot more money later, so you want to create realistic, long-term program budgets.

What to Do Instead

There are many constructive ways to invest your remaining budget. My top three recommendations:

  1. Internal Capacity Building
    Most larger enterprises, most of the time, don't have experienced enough people in sufficient quantities to fully exploit the technology they buy. Improving the capacity of your own team should rise higher on your to-do list. Consider staff education in areas of chronic challenges, like user experience, information architecture, program management, and so on. Many fine conferences still await this year; we're participating in three good ones: KMWorld/SharePoint Symposium, Gilbane Conference, and Interop-Mumbai.
  2. Small-but-high-value projects
    Admit it: much of your internal data and content is ROT (redundant, outdated, or trivial). You can find an outside firm to help clean it up. This is also a good time to review and improve legacy business processes and identify potential dependencies on fresh technology.
  3. Get prepared to move confidently in the coming years
    You cannot ever become too savvy about the marketplaces where you want to buy technology. Working for a company that earns its daily bread by selling evaluation research, I am surely biased here. But the fast-moving pace of many digital workplace and marketing technologies means that savvy enterprises are staying well abreast of their choices. At a minimum you can build a better -- and likely much more durable -- business case by carefully investigating realistic costs and benefits.

By avoiding a big-bang investment this year, you can set yourself up for success over the next five years. If RSG can help you at all, please let us know.

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