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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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  • by nberardi (199555) * on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:22PM (#14870845) Homepage
    I hope I don't get flamed for this, but I personally like Microsoft Project Server. It is a great tool and offers many capabilities that I would not have with out it. For instance my staff can put in their hours they worked on projects so that I can better track their time.
    • Seems a bit overkill for just a budget (that's all he's asked for anyway). How much is that product? An (essentially free) spreadsheet should do the trick.
    • 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.
    • Notice: I sell EPM solutions based on MS Project Server 2003.

      With that said, it's easily the most cost-effective and most flexible project management solution on the market right now. Most of your users won't need Project Professional, but just a Project Web CAL. It'll take about 2-6 months to implement, depending on the complexity of your organization. It can also take less than a week. :-)
      • Doesn't sound like he needs all that stuff. Just stick Project 2003 on a desktop and be done with it.

        Why do technical people consistently vastly over-engineer their technical solutions? The customer wants a moped, technical people try to sell them a 747...
  • by Omicron32 (646469) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:24PM (#14870856)
    If you're having to constantly redesign your spreadsheet you're not doing enough planning. Think ahead. Sit down and design your spreadsheet and try to plan for everything as best you can, then go write it.

    Nothing wrong with the spreadsheet we use to track our budget cos it was well planned out!
    • by georgewilliamherbert (211790) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:23PM (#14871722)
      Concur. I use spreadsheets; typically, a page per definable project or service area, and then a central tracking sheet with weekly or monthly updates of original estimate, current estimate, spent to date, etc for each project. You can see where you are in the spend, where the estimated total per project has gone pretty easily.

      MS Project Server can certainly do this, but is pretty much overkill.

      I don't know of any open-source domain specific tool for IT budgeting. You could, of course, use a spreadsheet other than Excel if that's your preference. Spreadsheets is pretty much spreadsheets.
    • I asked similar offices what they planned to spend on, and copied their template with permission. There are annual expenses like licenses. There are triannual expenses like computers and occasional purchases too. There are long term goals or buying plans. Make three parts, and you'll be well organized like it sounds like you were.
  • by duffbeer703 (177751) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:33PM (#14870922)
    You need to figure out what you spend now to plan ahead.

    Get some spreadsheets together that break down all of your costs... keep a tab of staffing, consultants, licensing, hardware & software acquisition, hardware & software maintenance, and overhead. (rent, utilities, travel, copy machines, secretaries, miscellaneous)

    Once you do that, you'll actually be in a position where you can control your costs and can create accurate & fair cost estimates for expansion of the services you offer (and the money that you spend)

    Its a real pain in the ass to get started, but it pays dividends quickly. At a place where I worked, the IT shop billed its "clients" (other divisions of the company) based on the number of PCs that each client owned. After breaking down the costs, it was discovered that for most clients, user counts drove costs more than hardware counts, and that some divisions of the organization were in effect subsidizing others.

    A new hybrid billing methodology that billed for acutal costs ended up being for more equitable and less obtuse.

  • Organization (Score:2, Interesting)

    by labalicious (844887)
    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
    Of
    • your own and others both, personal normal scheduled workweek tasks and excessive annoying overnighter/weekeneder hours especially unplanned ones like restores...

  • by sampas (256178) * on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @07:36PM (#14870943)
    It sounds like you should take a course in Project Management, and get a handle on how people handle budgeting and resource issues for projects, large and small.

    Microsoft's Project can do this, but it isn't going to help much if you don't know anything about the project management models. You can even get a PM Certification [pmi.org] now, which is in demand these days. While Project is helpful, there still aren't publicly available estimators for IT/IS projects: it's still easier to estimate how much building a skyscraper will cost (cost per square foot) than implementing MS Exchange in terms of cost per client.

    In our IS projects, we think in terms of cost per function point, interface, and sync item.

    MS Project can export in and out of MS Excel, of course. There are even third-party add-ons for MS Project [criticaltools.com].

    Typical MBA textbook on Project Management:
    Grey & Larson [amazon.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    What always worked for me was getting a good overview of the current costs, expected change in your department. Then go see all the responsible, take a look at their schedule and deduce what they will require from you, when you have done all this make the big sum. So far, so good, and now the tricky part ... add 20%, and you shouldn't be to far from what you should have spent at the end of the year.

    It requires time, experience, imagination and most important listening skills (and do not forget the 20% ;-)

    Oh
  • by KeiichiMorisato (945464) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @08:25PM (#14871328)
    Help! Where's the software to help me budget and plan my project to acquire this software for IT Budgeting and Planning?
  • there is some good commercial software out there for this but its hard to budget for.

  • IT budgets are often backwards and upsidedown. I've seen expensive software developers given the crappiest white-box PCs served by the flakiest Windows network, and they waste hours during network outages or service outages or virus scans where they simply cannot get work done beyond reading a book or talking at the coffee pot. There is no accounting for this lost productivity! The PHBs still think they save money on the crappy PCs!

    It's really quite amazing that businesses can operate this way.
    • The converse is as dangerous - my company spends too much money on the desktops (the "ooh, shiny" syndrome where posession of the latest toy is everything). As a result the infrastructure suffers (especially the network). The shiny toys don't work so well then...
      • I agree with that. Adopting all sorts of new gadgets can result in immature device drivers and other incompatibilities that are unanticipated when the purchase order goes through. Mainly, I prefer a nice solid workstation desktop, even if it isn't a 400THz Pentium 5000.

  • by Fr05t (69968)
    Dovico Track-IT Suite - http://www.dovico.com/ [dovico.com]

    Best thing of all, it there is an open and documented API available.
  • 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 afabbro (33948) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:59PM (#14872154) Homepage
    ...few people do this well.

    You should have a good spreadsheet/system for maintenance, software subscriptions, etc. That sort of thing you can project forward. You can also put depreciation on that, since that's a known quantity, and leases. Likewise, known expenses - salaries, benefits, energy bills, etc. Add some factor for growth, raises, etc. Of course in a large environment this could be hundreds of budgets that roll up, or an ERP package, etc.

    But cap-ex (new things to buy)? Forget it...my current employer (Fortune 500) does budgeting that's done by August for cap-ex for the following year (i.e., in Aug 2005, we're set for 2006 Capex...16 months in advance!) It never works and we're always doing out-of-budget, though of course conversely there are things that we don't get to do or turn out not to be needed. That sort of budgeting just encourages everyone to add large padding because going under budget is always good, but going over is bad.

    Unless you have a good sense of business needs that tie into your IT needs (which is really hard to do in medium or large environments), CapEx is a guess. Or just don't do CapEx budgets...some really big companies don't do them because they're useless. I can predict the next 90 days pretty well...beyond that it's really difficult.

    Another trick with IT budgeting is that sometimes projects come along and someone says "oh, I'll pay for that, no problem". Great. But adding that server or that 2TB of disk means I have to add X and Y and Z over here in infrastructure or buy licenses for this or that or you trip over a point where I have to add a new cabinet or a new blade, etc. Yes, yes, utility computing models will save us all, but simply keeping track of all the dependencies is complex.

    If I was king, my approach would be to budget out everything that is known (expense, depreciation, etc.), add growth where it's known, and then do CapEx out of a budget cycle or on a very short budget cycle, justified as-needed. Unfortunately, that's really hard to do in a public company where capital spending is something analysts watch.

    • No offense but if you can't estimate CAPEX (not things you buy but things that directly add to the value of the organisation and have to be amortized, e.g. servers, plant, property) you shouldn't be putting budgets together. For many companies CAPEX is the biggest single cost and it is critical to manage this as CAPEX to maximise the value of your organisation.
  • 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.

  • Openworkbench (Score:2, Informative)

    by tubs (143128)
    Persoanlly I've not used it for any project planning, but if MS Project is out of your reach why not try OpenWorkBench

    http://www.openworkbench.org/ [openworkbench.org]
  • by QAPete (717838) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @07:49AM (#14873869) Homepage
    You might be well-served to speak with the top financial person in your organization to develop a more systemic solution. If your company does not have an IT budget, I can only assume that there are other aras within your company that are not budgeted. Most companies like to categorize expenses into 'accounting logical buckets', and include items such as salaries, benefits, office supplies, maintenance, licensing, hardware, even going to things like departmental depreciation and office furniture.

    If you're going to set up an IT budget, it would make more sense to me to dovetail that into a company-wide strategy that your accounting folks and upper management support. After all, the reasons you'd want to provide structure are to track and report performance to management, utilize budgeting and planning to justify the things your department has done and want to do, lay the groundwork for additional human resources, etc. As a result, you'll want to be speaking in a language and format that management both supports and understands.

    As for my experience as a Director of IT, I start with a rolling three-year strategic plan, reviewed bi-annually and signed off by the President and his staff. Flowing from that are my expense budget and capital budget. Expenditures are tallied against account numbers and tracked monthly. Capital items are scheduled by quarter. Both are tied to the strategic plan. Major projects receive detailed project planning via a statement of work, and are tracked to time and budget using a simple spreadsheet and/or GAANT chart.

    Day-to-day project planning, including what used to be 'walk-in' requests, are handled by aweb-based system (developed in-house) where end users can make requests (including predicted cost savings), I either reject requests or assign them to an employee, the employee carries out the request, documenting what was done, time taken, testing performed, etc., and the end user ultimately 'approves' the request by indicating that the work done satisfies the request requirements. This approach is also Sarbanes-Oxley friendly, btw.

    Emergency work is done and documented with my approval, and is documented post-mortem.

    I have never needed to track my employees' use of time. As with every IT department I have ever been associated with, the amount of requested work far outweighs the available time. My people and I are busy from the moment we walk into work until we leave for the day. For the value a good IT department can provide a company, I have never seen a need to have them 'punch a clock'. Tracking overall project status is more than enough.
  • Help me out here. I have been subsribing to PC Magazine and InfoWorld for quite a while now, but I am finding that I would like to get some more magazines that deal with IT related issues. All of the magazines I see at Barns and Noble or at the grocery store seem to be targeted at the PC gamer, and not the IT professional. Being quasi-new (6 years) to the IT field I would really prefer a magazine that also gave detailed information for deploying some solutions. What would you recomend?

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