Funding Problems? - AvNetwork.com

Funding Problems?

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It's hard to believe that October is already here. For folks in the private sector, October means the start of autumn, changing temperatures, and carving jack-olanterns. Those of us that work for the federal

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government are experiencing the start of a new fiscal year with changing budgets and the looming threat of continuing resolutions. These realities are often spookier than haunted houses. As government technology managers, budget slashers scare us more than slasher movies. As we enter the final stretch of a presidential campaign season that guarantees significant change to our organizations regardless of the outcome, we must consider ways to sustain and improve our systems.

Over the last year I have realized that funding is more important to the long-term health and sustainability of most AV systems than any other factor. But how do we secure the funding we need when agencies are constantly weighing competing budget priorities and making cuts? Unless we want to go trickor- treating for investment dollars, the answer is program funding.

Many federal AV technology managers do not have any program funding. Others have funding set aside for operations and maintenance, but do not have funding allocated for infrastructure upgrades and lifecycle replacements. Very few have funding for expansion and enhancement of their AV systems. This is unfortunate because the demand for AV technology - especially videoconferencing, streaming media, and converged voice, video, and data solutions - has never been higher. Rather than accept inadequate funding, we can secure the dollars needed to properly maintain and expand our services by preparing solid business cases. Business cases are the magic potions needed to conjure up program funding. The formula can vary from agency to agency, but the key ingredients and results are often the same.

In order to obtain funding, AV technology managers must start by developing effective communication skills. This means being able to brief senior leaders, answer questions, and convince people that their needs are worth monetary investment. AV managers who obtain a detailed understanding of the technologies that they are responsible for will be much better prepared to be advocates for technology investments. As informed advocates, they will have the tools required to propose and defend AV program funding in briefings and conversations.

Being able to defend AV program funding requirements is predicated on the ability to understand costs. Reasonable calculation of total lifecycle costs is essential to program funding justification. If you don't know how much you need, you'll never be able to convince leadership to give you anything. Doing the math is often so frightening to AV managers that they choose to take their chances with the paltry dollars they are given and hope that things don't go wrong.

Pulling together financial figures doesn't have to be an ordeal. If the task is broken down, each of the critical cost areas can be tackled separately. There are resources within every agency that can assist with the numbers. To put it another way, AV technology managers should get to know contracting and budget officers. There are also numerous ways to get outside assistance. The first place to turn is to contractors and consultants. These resources are available in every federal agency, and their diverse skill sets are intended to complement those of their government counterparts.

Manufacturers and integrators can also be very helpful. In addition to providing quotes for equipment and services, they can also get you in touch with other organizations that have successfully established their own programs or that are pursuing similar objectives.

Understanding the needs and strategic direction of mission partners can help with program planning. The more federal AV technology managers interact with each other, the more they can leverage each other's ideas. AV technology managers should also become familiar with all related departmental directives and initiatives. Program funding justifications that are tied to directives and initiatives are compelling. These issues resonate with leadership and align support elements, including AV departments, with mission-focused end users.

Internal connections are critical because support from key stakeholders must be attained before leaders will allocate funds to a program. This requires coordination across multiple core services. Since AV systems require a lot of bandwidth, it is a good idea to work with the people responsible for network transport to ensure that sufficient and scalable capacity is planned. As AV is integrated into unified communications systems, application hosting, storage, and common services elements within the IT department will be impacted. The more support these stakeholders provide, the more likely program funding will be provided.

One way to establish stronger bonds across service areas is to establish working groups, or "Tiger Teams," that include stakeholders from various departments within the agency. The individuals that participate in the team are likely to become advocates if the team leader empowers them in the decision making process during planning exercises. Brainstorming and technology exchange meetings are excellent ways to discover any gaps in program plans. These activities can include working group members, end users, and senior managers.

Participation from end users is particularly important. Their feedback can greatly assist with developing business cases that flow from actual user requirements and provide mission impact. End users of AV systems include senior leaders from across the agency that can greatly influence funding decisions. It is also critical to keep IT leadership informed throughout the process.

DOCUMENTATION

Once relationships are established and communication skills are honed, it is time for documentation. Effective business cases depend on professional documentation. Without professional documentation, most senior managers will not consider requests to allocate program funding. Some agencies have business case templates for program funding. If properly completed, these templates can make requesting program funding fairly straight forward.

Business case documentation may include any combination of program funding justification papers and briefings, financial analysis spreadsheets, return on investment (ROI) reports, benchmarking reports, cost/benefits analysis, risk mitigation plans, policies, processes, and various assessments. The list does not end there. The total volume of documentation required can be daunting, but it can be managed by delegating the workload and maintaining working documents in central locations such as wiki sites or SharePoint portals. All documentation should follow commonly accepted formats and should include executive summaries and/or abstracts. Agency leaders are busy people and they will likely not have time to review all of the documentation. Preparing short presentations to cover the highlights is critical.

Patience is crucial. Program funding doesn't just appear when you need it. It may take a year or longer to gather all of the documentation and support needed. Developing a sustainable program is not easy, but the reward is well worth the effort both for the AV technology manager and the agency.

All federal agencies are becoming increasingly reliant on complex AV systems that are merging with IT and telephony infrastructures. AV technology managers need to ensure seamless transitions to the collaboration environments of the future. The pace of innovation and advancement in our industry makes that nearly impossible without the flexibility that comes with dedicated funding. Successful AV technology managers will support the mission of their agencies by securing funding and proving return on investment. Taking a systematic approach to creating program funding business cases can mean the difference between a trick and a treat each October when the new fiscal year budgets are announced.

I wish you all happy budgeting and safe haunting.

Gary L. Hall, CTS-D, CTS-I, is a program management execution officer at the National- Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) in Bethesda, MD. He is also an adjunct instructor at the InfoComm Academy and can be reached at garylhall@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are in no way officially endorsed by NGA, and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States.

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