Tis the Season to Spend

Opinion: IT budgets need to get the recognition they deserve.

The friday after Thanksgiving has been nicknamed Black Friday to connote the official start of the holiday shopping season and is often cited as the busiest shopping day of the year. Although the "busiest day" moniker appears to fall into the urban myth category (www.snopes.com/holidays/thanksgiving/shopping.asp), it starts a retail shopping countdown that can make or break a retailers financials for the year. You will never see me shopping on that Friday, but I do think it is a tribute to the development of retail financial technology that same-day store sales can be rolled up nationally and become almost instantaneously available. This year, the roll-up has been accompanied by increased data analysis that showed overall robust sales but weakness in mall sales versus the big box retailers (www.cnn.com/2005/US/11/26/holiday.shopping.ap).

Lately, Black Friday has been joined by Cyber Monday to connote a big liftoff in Web sales as employees coming back from the Thanksgiving holidays spend their time at work ordering stuff online rather than doing the work for which they are paid. Alas, Cyber Monday appears to also fall into the urban myth category and was probably dreamed up by some online marketers looking to build buzz (www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/nov2005/nf20051129_9946_db016.htm).

But there is no day in the corporate marketplace for IT execs to mark the start of their technology spending, and Id like to change that. Id start by taking some unofficial days and giving them official status. The most widespread unofficial corporate spending day is the "use it or lose it" day. This used to be particularly true in government spending, and I welcome readers to confirm or deny its continued existence.

The "use it or lose it" day occurs when you need to spend your budgeted dollars or risk not only losing those dollars but also having a smaller spending base for the following year. Veterans of those grisly bureaucratic budget fights know that you would be a fool to have won the budget battles and then lose the war by not spending those dollars. However, rather than dribble that IT spending throughout the final quarter, it would be much more fun to simply spend it all on one day and then get on to next years spending.

A companion to the "use it or lose it" day is the "spend it before its gets cut from the budget" day. This is the day when you finally have all your approvals in place, you have made your product choices and you know you had better get those purchase orders cut before an ugly budget revisal cycle starts.

There are many reasons for budget revisals, including corporate sales hitting the skids, rumors of acquisitions and a new pet IT project suddenly championed by the CEO. It is a wonder that any intelligent IT budget and product selection process actually makes it through the corporate-spending gauntlet. The "spend it before its gets cut from the budget" day would mark real technology progress for most companies.

The third corporate spending day I propose formalizing is the "feed the ghosts of undead projects" day. Those projects often include corporate-scale CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) and database upgrades that continue on for years without resolution and are always over budget. The day of "undead projects" would be a good way to remind corporate execs what it costs when you get into big projects without a clear idea of what the result will look like. Often the execs who championed the projects have moved on to other companies. No one remembers exactly why it seemed so important to have the CRM system be a companywide project, and no one actually budgeted for all those project changes.

Those are my proposals for official corporate spending days. They may never rise to the mythical status of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but they may become the most important days on your enterprise calendar.

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.


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