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Software for IT Budgeting and Planning? 37

Posted by Cliff
from the watch-every-[insert-currency-here]-spent dept.
MoneyConscious asks: "My company is still pretty small (100 people) and has never had any real structure around much of its operations. I manage the IT group and would like to get a handle on our yearly budget - expected expenditures for planned (and some unplanned) projects, plus regular maintenance and growth. I've taken a crack at a few different spreadsheets, but always seem to come up with something a few weeks later that requires a re-write of the budget (for instance, planned versus actual cost). We are a mix of Windows and Linux, so I have some flexibility in regards to budgeting software solutions (web-based SourceForge apps, Excel templates, and the like). What tools do you use to keep track of estimates and record actual expenditures to see how your budget process is doing?"
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Software for IT Budgeting and Planning?

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  • Organization (Score:2, Interesting)

    by labalicious (844887) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:35PM (#14870936) Homepage
    I don't think it really matters what software you use. Either you use some spreadsheet form like MS Excel or you use Quickbooks, it matters more on your organizational skills more than anything.

    If you start out with the basic structure of things, you'll be better off. First, you have two categories: Hardware/Software.

    After that, you should start to break it down into more general categories. Under Hardware:

    Servers
    Desktops
    Laptops
    hard drives
    networking
    etc...

    Under Software:

    Operating System
    Office Suite
    Accounting
    Anti-Virus

    That way, when you are trying to total up your budget, you can breakdown into the specific categories and see where you can save money. On the other hand, you can see what categories are getting neglected and possibly think about spending more money on them. HTH
  • by creimer (824291) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @08:53PM (#14871516) Homepage
    I'm still waiting for ProjectX [projectx.com] for the Mac to come out. Saw a demo of it at MacWorld that I thought was really cool. You can assign a specific cost to each item of the project to create an estimate that you can compare to the actual expenses as each item is completed.
  • by firstnevyn (97192) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:44PM (#14871829)
    Taskjuggler is very shiny for project/team management stuff it's got a learning curve on it but you should be able to get going in a couple of hrs and it's very flexible and provides pretty reports ical files for each staff member etc.

    www.taskjuggler.org

    the forums have some good examples and a presentation that will teach you how to use it.
  • by poopdeville (841677) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:35PM (#14872064)
    Yup. All you need to do is come up with a list of required features or goals, come up with sub-goals necessary to meet those, and figure out the dependencies between them. If you know your subordinates, you should be able to come up with a realistic estimate for how long it will take to meet those goals. Try to overestimate the time necessary, instead of underestimating it.

    Scheduling is a mathematically hard problem, but it's usually easier than chess.

  • by lucm (889690) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @11:08PM (#14872186)
    MS-Project is the way to go. Here are a few pointers:

    -At first, don't bother with dates. Use only the priority, % completed and estimated duration (always in hours). Don't be shy to remove columns and the gantt chart from the task entry form; at first it is more of an annoyance, especially if you manage many small projects in the same file.
    -Add all working people in the resources sheet and set an average cost by hour. If you want to manage the schedule (and not only the overall cost), don't forget to give an accurate availability of the resources (what % of their time will be committed to the project). As an example, if your sysadmin is part of a project, don't commit him for more than 25% of its time.
    -Add all purchase (actual or planned) in the resources sheet, and affect them to the tasks when needed. Don't forget to set the price.
    -Add the WBS column in the task entry form, and use plenty of subtasking (increasing or decreasing indent will create child tasks). This will help you to group tasks (and cost).
    -While the various projects are moving, use the filters in the Project menu to hide the completed tasks, or the ones with a priority far from what you can afford on day to day. This will help you to keep track of what is really important. Reapply the filters once in a while, as they don't stick with the new values.
    -Use plenty of notes in the tasks. These can help you remember why a specific project is on hold.

    Most important of all: store the project in a database, not in a MPP file. This can be done with the ODBC button in the File-Save dialog. On the first save MS-Project will create all the tables in the selected database. Then you can connect to this database and do all kinds of wonder with the data, like reports, real-time monitor, on-request status report via web services, and so on. In you DB you can add tables for additional information about purchases: supplier, warranty, billing, and so on, which you can fill either from a plugin in MS-Project or directly in the DB. You don't need Project Server to do it.

    Actually, unless you are ready to invest in a lot of work, my advice is that you should not try to setup Project Server or Outlook integration. It is probably not worth the effort.

    The best setup I found out is to save the MS-Project data in SQL Server, and build web reports with Reporting Services (included with the SQL license). With Reporting Services people can watch live reports, or schedule email-delivery in any format they want. As an example people could query the system for the tasks they are assigned to and get it automatically in a spreadsheet every morning, to help them work out a good daily schedule. Or the management could get an automated status report with charts and everything, without having to ask it from you.

    Then you could either update the % completed in MS-Project, or build a small web application to let people do it themselves.

    MS-Project can be a very handy tool, much more convenient than Excel for budgeting and planning. Just don't let people or features scare you, take the time to play around and don't hesitate to heavily customize your entry forms. Expand it with additional stuff in the database, build web forms, tools and reports. As long as you keep the data up-to-date, it will work.

Numeric stability is probably not all that important when you're guessing.

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