Budget can be a sensitive topic in the current climate.
Unfortunately, the UK, along with much of the rest of the world, is in economic recession. According to ONS, the UK economy shrank by 2% from January to March, and shrank again by 20.4% in April.
Many businesses already made their pre-emptive cuts in order to survive, while some are currently adjusting budgets in order to squeeze the best possible outcome out of a very small money pot.
This means that engineering leaders and CTOs at tech-first companies are having to make some tough calls.
Tech leaders are facing intense pressure to slash their budgets, freeze recruitment and keep maintenance costs as low as possible. At the same time, there is no denying that technology has been the lifeline to so many businesses during the pandemic by providing work from home capabilities, improved communication, and the ability to collaborate remotely.
So how do tech leaders navigate the clear tension between cutting costs and making critical investments into important technologies? What is the best way to adjust your tech budget to survive uncertain times? We asked tech experts to find out.
1. Build a team culture around company goals
We all know what budget discussions can feel like a bit of a battle - convincing those around you and in senior positions that this is where costs should be dedicated. Every individual in your company has their own priorities and beliefs about what actions will move the needle, and that means you need to put the argument to them as to why your priorities are important too.
If those in senior positions do not understand the objectives of your team, it’s going to be hard to win their buy-in.
2. Don’t just focus on quick wins
“10 independent teams can look under-resourced independently, but when they all align on a handful of critical goals, it can turn out to be plenty. In uncertain times like these, educating the management team on our goals is very critical. It is important to make them feel comfortable that they can leverage the tech budget beyond their immediate team to get critical deliverables done. This behaviour has to be reciprocated across teams to survive these uncertainties.
Once the management team is educated, they will have to propagate this culture to their tech teams to feel comfortable to be working on projects across tech teams.
This step is the absolute foundation on which other strategies depend on.”
- Madan Thangavelu, Senior Engineering Manager, Uber
A short term fix doesn’t always have the desired long-term impact. At Global App Testing, we refer to these quick, short-term wins as vanity metrics - providing impressive results fast, but without any weight behind them. Changes that will have a gradual, trickle-down effect are often more valuable.
"In the face of any great crisis, it can be tempting to divert tech budget to more attention-grabbing 'quick wins' and extras in an attempt to stay visible.
But in my experience, unless a complete pivot of the business is needed to survive, actively slowing down is a far better approach.
When the coronavirus hit, we made the decision to halt our monthly updates and direct resources to our longer-term projects that we think will pay dividends a year from now, rather than next week.
It was a very tough call to make, but I believe the right one. My advice to other CTOs who are still facing tough decisions on their tech budget is to ignore the noise, hold your nerve, and believe in your products."
- Daniel Albertini, CTO of Anyline
3. Increase efficiency and invest in automation
If your team can complete a task quicker with automation, now is the time to automate it.
With tech teams working at full capacity to achieve their goals, no one wants to be stuck working on repetitive, manual tasks. All that does is waste your team’s time and budget.
Look at ways you can make your current processes more efficient, and where you can minimise costs on aspects of your strategy that could be streamlined.
“We have refocused our budgets on automation and operational efficiency as well as internal process controls. The biggest risks we see in our business is the availability of people and maintaining a predictable workflow. We have taken for granted that business is uncertain and our customer spending patterns will be erratic.
Our goal is to minimise that risk by being more adaptable to changing conditions. By focusing on automation and efficiency, we are limiting our dependence on individual people, in case anyone is individually quarantined or sick. We have also shortened our budget cycle to monthly to accommodate the changing times, ensuring that goals are being met and teams stay motivated. We are primarily focused on in-house work, but using vendors where needed for short-term contracts – limiting long-term reliability. Online contractors such as Upwork and Fiverr are becoming more valuable as well to address the short-term skills gaps”
- David Johnson, Chief Technology Officer, Mulytic Labs
4. Identify critical short-term objectives and mid-term goals
Now is the time for executing on critical objectives, rather than aspirational plans. You may have just started that one particular project you always had set in your sights, but is it really the best use of precious resources?
Uncertain periods are all about fighting fires and ensuring the business survives, so identify the projects and tasks that will help to achieve this. Focus your budget there.
“There are always projects that we would have kick-started that are aspirational, bold bets with 1-2 year long horizons for ROI. We would catalog those that are very early in their execution. As the need for the budget in the critical areas arises, we would reallocate resources from these projects.”
- Madan Thangavelu, Senior Engineering Manager, Uber
5. Don’t take technology for granted
Technology is what will drive us into the future. So ensuring your business doesn’t slash the tech budget to the point the future of your company is in jeopardy is extremely important.
“Probably the best piece of advice that I can give to businesses looking to adjust their tech budget in uncertain times is, if you are going to reduce costs, try to focus on the security of your company, as well as operations. These are two of the biggest parts of keeping your company running smoothly through difficult times and should be your main focus. If your security is at risk, you could end up losing out financially and potentially shutting down. If your operations can’t run as efficiently, you will likely lose business and end up damaging your brand image (also potentially shutting down). Don’t take this type of technology for granted. If you are going to cut costs, do an evaluation of your tech and get rid of unnecessary technology first. You don’t want to cause other major issues for yourself in difficult times.”
- Will Ellis, Founder, Privacy Australia and IT Security Consultant
Making every penny count
Budgeting is a subject that has to be approached with delicacy, especially as companies across the world struggle in the wake of COVID-19.
But as tech leaders reassess this year’s budgets, there are a number of steps they can take to adjust their strategy and make the most out of the money they have available to them.
These top four tips will help guide and inform your budgeting strategy, and provide inspiration for the best way to move forward.
- Build a team culture around company goals
- Don’t just focus on quick wins
- Increase efficiency and invest in automation
- Identify critical short-term objectives and mid-term goals