Posts Tagged ‘finance’

Developing your financial management talent

by Brian Superczynski on October 11, 2010

Over the course of my career I’ve read numerous books and have attended seminars and classes on developing talent and leadership skills.  These classes have ranged from developing one’s own personal “brand”, to conducting performance reviews and even how to become a “thought leader.”  I’m sure during the course of your career you’ve also had similar experiences.

Now from what I’ve gathered from all of this training is that each of us has unique skills based upon our backgrounds and chosen professions.  In a light-hearted tone I like to refer to these unique skills as special needs.  I’ve also learned that if you don’t think you have special needs, you do – it’s just that you don’t know it yet.  In looking back at my experiences as an IT analyst, leader and mentor to other analysts, there is definitely a unique set of skills that facilitates adding value to financial support within IT organizations.

Finding an individual to perform routine financial tasks and create nice-looking Excel spreadsheets is easy.  Identifying an individual who can provide value-added input to your IT management team is a different ball game.   There are not many universities and even companies who train individuals how to apply their financial skills to IT operational financial management.  Therefore it is incumbent upon IT organizations not only to identify quality financial management talent but to provide training on IT-focused financial management strategy and practices.

I’ve always believed that IT financial management is a smart and rewarding choice for young finance professionals beginning their careers.  For starters, they are usually assigned to executive IT teams to provide financial and administrative support.  As such, they quickly gain invaluable experiences on leadership dynamics and how decisions are made.  I recall early in my career being the lead financial analyst on an executive IT leadership team at a Fortune 50 organization.  We hired a new executive who had just retired with the rank of colonel from the U.S. Marines.  The executive vice president called me into his office and introduced me to this new leader and proceeded to tell him that I would review his budget, his key initiatives, and also provide him with insight into his new team.  Now I was a full 25 years younger than this newly-retired colonel and he had this perplexed look on his face while I was reviewing his budget and organization.  After a while, the colonel looked up and said, “I get it – you’re the bosses S-L-J-O” (pronounced: Slow-Joe).  Puzzled, I inquired what a SLJO was.   I quickly learned that my corresponding position in the armed forces was fondly referred to as the “Stinky Little Job Officer”.  Actually, another word was used instead of “Stinky” but I’ll leave that to your imagination.   Now my point is that at a relatively young stage of my career I was given the invaluable opportunity to participate and be a key member of an IT leadership team, albeit in a “junior” but important and strategic capacity.  Not only did it allow me to utilize my financial skill sets, but it also allowed me to adapt those skills in a new capacity while learning what I found to be the interesting world of running a large Information Technology organization.  I found being accepted as a full-fledged member of the IT organization that I supported the single best training that I could have received early in my career.

On the flip side of my own personal experience, I’ve seen many IT organizations look to their financial support as overhead that is required only to provide corporate financial planning, with little more than budgets, monthly accruals, and variance reports.  In these instances, the relationship is typically somewhat contentious and the individual providing financial support is often unable to articulate the IT drivers in their analysis and they become little more than accountants and end up moving to another job fairly quickly.

By now you’re probably wondering if you need to develop an entirely separate training program for the group or individual providing your IT organization with financial support.  Might be surprising, but the answer is no.  As part of your team, they should be required to participate in your IT training programs.  Now, I’m not talking about your financial analyst becoming certified as a Cisco CCIE or a Microsoft Windows administrator.  I’m referring to having your financial support attend and participate in IT service delivery and project management programs.  Two that come to mind – which I strongly recommend – are

Of course, there are other programs such as Six Sigma that are also relevant and would be a good choice if your organization is adopting these or similar management methodologies.  All of these offerings and others are relevant to financial professionals and teach invaluable skills on translating IT terminology into financial and business relevant terms.

In addition, don’t overlook your company specific certification or training programs.  For example, at one organization all employees and contractors are required to attend a half day class before conducting any type of work in the datacenter.  The purpose of the class is to educate the individual(s) on why the datacenter is mission critical to delivering services and providing an appreciation for all the processes in place to ensure a high availability and error-free environment.  It was amazing how the one half day of training gave non-IT professionals an appreciation for the IT organization as a whole.  However, as a partner in a firm called Datacenter Trust, I must clarify that I don’t condone people frequently walking through your datacenter for training and tours.  At the same time, it’s always a kick seeing those datacenter engineers who don’t get out much impressing people with what they manage.  You know who you are…

These may appear to be obvious suggestions on developing your IT financial management talent, but more times than not I’ve seen the finance support organization recognized as a separate unique function.  The key word to remember regarding developing an effective partnership with your financial resource support is ‘inclusion’.   When developing your meeting agenda’s, identify a regular time to review the financial results compared to budget and forecast and any business cases or ad-hoc projects.  As appropriate, your financial support should attend as much of these meetings as possible to gain an understanding of the operational aspects of the organization.  Finally, elevate your IT financial support even further from the effective resource – or “SLJO” stage to a true technology and financial knowledge partner by having them actively participate in your IT-specific training programs.

3 Steps to making the Outsourcing choice

by Matthew Carmen on June 21, 2010

Outsourcing.  If you undertake this beast solely for financial savings, you will be disappointed. After a decade and a half of IT finance experience in the consulting, healthcare and entertainment industries, I tend to liken outsourcing to medicine:  The skill or portion of your business that you are looking to outsource is the headache, and the act of outsourcing is the aspirin.  In many cases, one has to be willing to spend extra money to get rid of the headache.  Spending extra money is not always the case, but when it is, it still could be the right decision in the long term.

It is now rare to find a company, of any size, that hasn’t outsourced some portion of their IT functions.  This could be as small as an application or as large as the company’s entire IT department.  So now you’re considering outsourcing within your own organization…but where to start?

Step 1: Once the CxO has signed off…

Once the CIO and/or CFO (hopefully with inputs from many other departments) has decided to look at the outsourcing option, where does the team – consisting of representation from finance, procurement, legal, operations, the user community and executive leadership – start?  As an example, let’s say a company is looking at outsourcing their mainframe environment:

The first thing that needs to be done is to figure out what assets the company has dedicated to its mainframe environment.  These assets might include:  applications (software), storage, facilities, labor and the actual mainframe equipment.  According to my colleague Brian Superczynski’s article, “More bang for your IT buck: Three keys to success”, published on March 15, 2010, well run organizations have accurate asset management, contract management, vendor management, activity based costing and other systems to make this an easy endeavor (my article  Lifecycle Management: Knowing what your company owns, how it’s being used, and where it lives, published April 12, 2010, delves into these areas more deeply), if not, there are many small and large consulting companies that can come in and do this assessment.  Most small and midsized companies do not have these capabilities in house.  Even large companies may want to bring in an outside expert to do this work, as to keep politics out of the decision making process, as much as possible.  Once this task is complete, the finance person assigned to this project will build a cost model, showing what the company spends on its mainframe environment.

Secondly, obtaining data on what other companies (similar to your size and/or industry) are spending on their applications, labor, storage, etc., is very valuable.  As with asset analysis, there are many companies out there that can provide this information –  Gartner Group and Forrester Research are two of the leaders.  Make sure to buy only the services that you need.  This information can get pricy, but it is definitely needed to make a sound business decision that will affect the company for many years to come.  This information, in conjunction with the corporate costs, will show where the negotiations with the outsource provider will take priority.  Labor is always high on this priority list, due to the fact that a provider should be able to do the outsourced activity more efficiently.

Step 2: Selecting and engaging outsourced solutions

Upon completion of Step one, the company is now ready to develop a Request For Information (RFI).  This task is usually performed by the procurement team, with help from operations, finance and legal.  This document is used to gauge the interest of prospective outsource providers.  By asking the right questions regarding the providers’ mainframe capabilities, the company looking to outsource can figure out who are the viable candidates, based predominantly on operational viability and sustainability.

Once The RFI has been responded to, hopefully by many outsourcing providers, the company will make some determinations on who they want to bid on the project.  What is becoming more and more popular is multiple outsource providers getting pieces of the outsource initiative – known as multi-sourcing – can come into play as well at this juncture.  Once the company knows who and how they want to bid on their outsourcing project, a Request For Pricing is developed (RFP).  This document, with many parts of the RFI document included, is meant for the vendor community to bid on the wants and needs of the company.  These wants and needs can get very complicated, the company looking to outsource may want upgrades to many of their applications and systems, that they cannot do themselves, or they might want equipment upgrades, etc.  These needs will add costs to the total vendor bid.

The vendors that choose to participate in this possible outsourcing initiative will respond to the corporate RFI/RFP – a timeframe you specify but usually within 30 to 60 days. Now is when the real nuts and bolts work starts.  Everything is a negotiation.  The company will need to decide what is a priority and what becomes secondary.  Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) must be agreed to, cost structures for outside work, i.e. new functionality, future usage, etc, need to be agreed to, as well as hundreds of seemingly minor points that if not discussed can come back to bite the company.  Once all the costs, service levels, etc. are agreed to, a decision can be reached.

Step 3:  Reaching the final decision

In order to reach a final decision, a business case must be built.  There is no set form in doing this, each company is different.  This business case needs to contain the information necessary to sell this undertaking to the decision makers in the corporation.  Financial models, growth estimates, industry information, etc all help make the case.  What the decision will come down to is where the ‘most bang for the buck’ can be realized.  Is the company getting the same services for less money?  Are more services provided for more money?  Are future costs controlled?  The answers to these questions in the business case will lead to a conclusion and facilitate the final decision.

Once the business case is presented, a decision is made.  Outsourcing may or may not make sense based upon all of the evidence provided.  If outsourcing does not make sense at a particular time, this does not necessarily mean it should not be looked at again in the near future.  The business environment or technical needs of the company may have changed, services pricing may have decreased, etc.  If outsourcing is the chosen direction, the company needs to put processes and people in place to manage the engagement in a positive way, in most cases this can be done through a reallocation of the labor that has been outsourced.  Issues will come up and having process in place will help mitigate them in a way that is beneficial to all involved.

I hope this information is helpful in your organization. Remember that this is a broad outline of the undertaking of an outsourcing relationship.  Each company will have different needs, levels of service, etc.  Make sure you have or contract the best expertise to provide all the information needed for your company to make the best decision for its business interests.  In most cases, outsourcing should only be considered for non-core activities, such as Information Technology, Customer Service, vendor management, etc.  Outsourcing can be a huge benefit to an organization on many levels, but should never be taken lightly; always make sure that due diligence has been conducted, sound planning exists, and ultimately that internal monitoring and coverage exists in order to address any issues that may arise.  It’s your business – fuel it properly to ensure success

Looking to sell your company? Don’t be in a hurry…

by Steve Popell on March 18, 2010

The merger & acquisition market has gone quiet. If your instincts are telling you to wait a while before trying to sell your company, give yourself a nice round of applause.  Your instincts are right on the money – pun intended, sorry.

Here is a list of 5 solid reasons for keeping your powder dry for three or four years.

  1. Buyers themselves are generally not doing particularly well.  Therefore, they will have less money to spend, and will be more risk averse.  Both factors drive lower offers.
  2. Your earnings are probably not especially robust.  How could they be in this kind of economy?  Projections of future profitability are all fine and good, but they have considerably less credibility in today’s market.  Even if the buyer believes your forecasts, why should s/he have the same truly reflect in the offer?  Better to negotiate from a position of relative strength.
  3. Companies that come out on the other side of this economic situation in one piece will find that many of their competitors will have disappeared. That means that you will have fewer rivals for the buyers’ attention and acquisition dollars once we are done with the recession… or better, when the recession is done with us!
  4. Every seller wants to differentiate his or her company from all the others in the industry.  If you have used this time to transform your company into a prime strategic acquisition candidate, it may be the #1 choice for buyers seeking acquisitions in your industry.
  5. This position as the “only game in town” (or close to it) could allow your broker to conduct an “auction” among a number of highly desirable buyers. This puts you in control of the acquisition process, and can yield enormous financial rewards.

What you need is a process that is designed to help your company to become a highly attractive strategic acquisition candidate by delivering to you the picture of this candidate as painted by people who really know – key acquisition executives in prospective buyers. What comes next is fascinating

You decide which strategic assets to acquire and/or enhance in order to get your company’s strategic profile as close as possible to what the market has identified as ideal. Like most strategic decisions, these will turn on four key elements of your business environment.

1. Money
2. People
3. Time
4. The fit with your company’s vision, mission and core values

You should begin this process at least two years before you intend to put your company on the market. Three years is preferable. Why?  Because development of solid strategic assets takes a minimum of two years and, often, longer.

Once you have made these decisions, it is time to incorporate them into a strategic plan that also includes provisions for enhancing your earnings growth and financial condition.  The standard plan, including Vision, Mission, Long-Range Goals, Short-Term Objectives, Task Assignments, Action Items gets the job done.  You should involve all personnel who will play a key role in implementing the plan.

Conduct periodic comparisons of plan and action (no less often than quarterly.) Such follow-up is critical to ensure that you maintain momentum.  The strategic plan is a living document that must remain front of mind.  Otherwise, it will gather dust, and you will have wasted a great deal of time and effort.

Go for it!

PhotoPopell This article has been contributed by Steven D. Popell. Steve has been a general management consultant since 1970. Steve is a Certified Management Consultant, business valuation expert, and inventor of ExiTrak®– a process designed to assist the privately-held company owner/manager to build an attractive strategic acquisition candidate

More bang for your IT buck: Three keys to success

by Brian Superczynski on March 15, 2010

Many companies do not have the luxury of providing dedicated financial support to their Information Technology (IT) organizations, which often results in a struggle to understand IT cost drivers and savings opportunities.  This struggle has become more evident as companies increasingly rely upon effective IT to drive operational efficiencies while simultaneously expecting IT units to reduce operating costs. This paradigm often results in the CIO seeking a liaison between IT and corporate finance in order to help provide transparency of technology costs as well as to identify the value proposition of all IT services. Identifying meaningful savings and efficiencies in your IT environment begins with a partnership between the technology and financial support units.  Preparing for these conversations requires an understanding of how to build a successful partnership between IT and corporate finance – the foundation for which begins with three related key practices:

Applying traditional financial management practices with the IT disciplines of vendor and asset management.

FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT:

The key to world-class IT financial management is coupling financial processes to your technology infrastructure and the organization’s strategic technology roadmaps.  Effective financial management ensures the IT infrastructure is obtained at the most cost-effective price, while providing the organization with a deep understanding of its IT services costs.  In many instances however, the most cost-effective price may not necessarily mean the lowest price; depending upon availability requirements and other demands placed on technology.   Financial transparency must therefore exist in order for the business to understand the tradeoffs between price and performance.

VENDOR MANAGEMENT

This price and performance tradeoff was painfully evident following one organization’s switch to a well-known personal computer supplier, which was initially calculated to save the organization millions of dollars.  Not surprisingly, the finance organization was quick to identify how the new agreement would reduce expenses in the following year’s budget.  However, those savings quickly evaporated after the supplier experienced a 20% failure rate on over 100,000 devices, which had been in service for less than a year.  Obviously, managing your suppliers not only includes obtaining the best price but also monitoring the quality of the product or service being provided.  This is why continually monitoring your relationships and agreements with suppliers (and including your finance organization in this process) is often your first and best opportunity to identify operational inefficiencies and IT cost savings.  The end result will not only mean achieving better price performance from your technology assets, but also will improve the reputation of your IT organization to provide a quality product at an explainable and predictable cost.

ASSET MANAGEMENT:

Keeping your technology assets current also requires active management of these assets:   An effective asset strategy not only tracks the asset but takes into account the lifecycle of the product from procurement to eventual disposition.  For example, leasing is a common asset and treasury strategy found in IT because it frees up cash flow associated with large capital purchases.  I’ve witnessed on numerous occasions leases being subsequently bought out because the technology owner was not made aware of the lease and was not prepared to replace the technology at end of term.  These pitfalls can be easily avoided by linking asset strategies with technology roadmaps and the organization’s budgeting process.

These three practices may appear straightforward, but in order to be successful they require the constant collaboration between your finance and technology organizations.  The application of financial, vendor, and asset management methodologies will keep your IT organization on track to realizing operating efficiencies while also optimizing operating costs.

Stay tuned: Our next few posts, we (my fellow Datacenter Trust teammates and I) will delve deeper into each of these key three areas as well as other topics on IT finance.

Collaborative-PracticeThe frequently destructive effects of litigated divorce, especially on minor children, are well known. While the lawyers get much of the blame, the fault really lies with a legal system that, all too often, turns adversaries into enemies and spouses with common interests into winners and losers.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is an alternative that can provide all the legal protections of a court process, minus most of the downside. It is called Collaborative Practice (CP), and it deserves your close scrutiny. CP is different from litigation in three important ways.

1. The spouses agree in writing not to go to court. If either party abrogates this agreement, all professionals must withdraw.

2. The spouses agree in writing to provide all relevant information, whether requested or not.

3. While the final settlement must be filed with the court, the couple, not a judge, makes all decisions.

There is a core team of professionals, including an attorney for each spouse, a coach for each spouse, a neutral financial professional and, if there are minor children, a child specialist. When there is a family business, the couple retains a neutral business valuation specialist.

With a neutral, two draining elements are greatly reduced – cost and stress.

The Cost is cut down as the hourly rates for financial and mental health professionals are typically much lower than those of family lawyers, the cost for CP is often less than with litigation. In addition to that, neutral business valuation is much less expensive, because there is only one expert, rather than two; and finally, there is no need for depositions and court appearances and, therefore, legal fees are also cut substantially.

The Stress from a protracted battle over the value of the business can take a heavy emotional toll. The non-manager spouse can feel over matched and at sea in a situation so laden with numbers and financial concepts. The manager spouse is often genuinely afraid that buying his or her spouse’s community property interest in the business will kill the goose that is supposed to be laying the golden eggs. Rival experts can exacerbate these fears and misgivings.

Not surprisingly, the business valuation professional in the Collaborative environment is quite different from the one that delivers an opinion in court. Here are a few of the key differences.

1. The function of this professional is to help the divorcing couple to agree on a value for the business that they understand and believe is fair.

2. The professional is free to deliver a preliminary report, which is open to criticism. If either spouse can make a persuasive case that revisiting an issue, reviewing a document or interviewing a person may have a material impact on the opinion, the expert should be happy to do so. This can never happen in court, where defending one’s opinion is the order of the day.

3. The expert is also able provide a range of value, rather than a specific dollar amount. This option is advantageous for two reasons.

• It is easier for the couple to agree on a range than on a number. Once this threshold is crossed, agreeing on a point within the range should be well within their grasp.

• A range of value allows the spouses to juxtapose business value and spousal support in ways that are beneficial to both parties. For example, a young spouse with a high paying job will often want to maximize the value of the business for use in an investment or retirement vehicle. S/he would probably be willing to sacrifice something in spousal support to achieve this goal. An older spouse with limited income prospects may be primarily interested in maintaining the lifestyle that the business has supported. This individual can afford to give a little in the value of the business in order to maximize spousal support.

When retaining a neutral business valuation specialist, the couple must make two key decisions: the valuation date, and the level of service. In court, the valuation date is typically selected because it is close to the date of separation (business highly dependent on the efforts of the spouse) or to the date of trial (many others, besides the spouse, contribute to the financial performance of the company.) In Collaborative Practice, neither of these markers need be dispositive. Rather, the decision revolves around practical issues, such as proximity to the end of the calendar or fiscal year, at which time the quality of financial information is usually much better than at other times during the accounting year.

In Collaborative Practice, the expert can offer a number of choices in service that accomplish different objectives and cover a wide range of cost. For example, if a valuation opinion were for court, the IRS or some other official body, an official opinion may be required. That is almost never the case in Collaborative Practice, and an unofficial report is much less expensive. In some instances, it is necessary only to review financial documents, rather than cover the entire business landscape – another way to save money. It is not necessary to satisfy a judge in this matter. Rather, the question is: What makes sense for the couple and their available resources?

My future posts will add detail regarding business valuation in the context of Collaborative Practice. In the meantime, if you or someone you care about is entering a divorce process, Collaborative Practice should be front of mind. You can learn more about this important option by visiting the Collaborative Practice website. The site will also help you to find Collaborative professionals all over the U.S. and around the globe


PhotoPopellThis article has been contributed by Steven D. Popell CMC (Certified Management Consultant.) Steve has been qualified as a business valuation expert since 1974, and has published extensively on this topic. CMC, a certification mark awarded by the Institute of Management Consultants USA, represents evidence of the highest standards of consulting and adherence to the ethical canons of the profession. Steve was a 2007 winner Collaborative Practice California Eureka Award for contributions to Collaborative Practice in this state.