Getting Web Funding

Just because it makes sense, doesn’t mean you’ll get the resources.

You know the Internet is exploding. You know the Internet is the way business will be conducted from now on. You know the Internet is critical to maintaining your company’s competitive edge. There’s only one problem: Your upper management doesn’t know.

Oh, they’re behind you all right. One hundred per cent. The same way soldiers are behind you as you walk point across a minefield. Management has seen how easy it is to whip up a Web page. They’ve seen you broadcast (yes, they’re still thinking in terms of broadcast) the corporate message around the world in your spare time. They’ve seen you put up a server for the marketing department in a week. They’ve seen the annual report go online in a few days.

Upper management is delirious! They didn’t have to spend a dime. They’ve never had it so good.

Now it’s time to put up a server for human resources. It’s time to create the customer service component of your external site, complete with real-time chat, threaded newsgroups and a RealAudio server-all integrated with the new customer contact-management system installed last month. It’s time to do all those things-when you get a leisure moment. And without a budget. After all-you’re a magician. You’re a superhero. You’re a webmaster!

It’s also time to face the facts. This is not a job that can be done in your spare time with spare change. It requires actual hardware and software, neither of which is free. It also requires talents of all kinds: server skills, networking know-how, object-oriented programming practice, graphic design dexterity, copywriting competence and project-management mastery. That means human resources and, consequently, a serious investment of time and money.

Unfortunately, there are real impediments to senior management opening the budgetary flood gates. Your IS department has already been to the pier, bucket in hand, and walked away with a gallon or two for CASE tools, a quart for object-orientation and a couple of pints to GUI-ify everything for the desktop. And let’s not forget the very healthy aqueduct currently dousing your company’s client/server fields.

Given those fiscal constraints, just how do you persuade the guys upstairs that it’s time to put their money where their future is?

The people who occupy the larger offices at your company aren’t clueless. They read Time and The Wall Street Journal. They know that others are reaping enormous benefits from the Internet and intranets, and they know that, as webmaster, you’re delivering value to the company. But they’re only involved in these projects the way a chicken is in a ham and egg breakfast. They aren’t committed the way the pig is. They aren’t providing the flow of funding you need to really float the company into the new age of communications.

Breakfast of Champions

Speaking of breakfast, I’ve always found that meal to be a good time to try to change people’s minds. They’re rested. They’re fresh. They haven’t spent the day thinking up reasons to stop a project, halt a payment or pull a plug. Gather the deep thinkers at your company together with the upper echelon and have them chat about the shift in global communications. Have them brainstorm for a while. Have them consider the what-ifs instead of the why-nots. Have them taking for granted that the world is inextricably heading down the path to online ordering, online customer service and online workflow.

Or don’t try to change their minds yourself. The simple fact is that, because you’re on the payroll, your opinion is only worth so much. If, on the other hand, you hire some guy who has to board an airplane to get there and wears an expensive suit, the powers that be will listen.

Frank Bender described the expert-from-afar phenomenon in his book, Winning Through Intimidation. The idea is that if a pricey outsider tells your boss the same thing you’ve been saying for the past 12 months, suddenly the fog will lift, the sun will shine and upper management will get religion. As the saying goes: The more you pay, the more it’s worth.

So bring Tom Peters to your next board meeting and let him assure them that “We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Walk Nicholas Negroponte through your doors so management can tell their friends they heard the word from someone in the know. Of course, these guys are high rollers and hard to line up. An alternate strategy is to introduce your bosses to people who are doing real things on the Net and experiencing real benefits. Have them talk to Federal Express or Holiday Inn. Put them in touch with Virtual Vineyards. Edward Glassman, director of technology strategies for Pfizer, Inc., can explain about using the Web to leverage intellectual capital. Irwin Goverman, vice president and CIO of Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, will describe how the Internet has improved communication and reduced costs, and how his company is using it to share everything from management vision to detailed patient care guidelines.

Have them chat with somebody from Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun, Cisco or any other company that makes a living selling Web-enabling technology. They have lots of stories they are very willing to tell.

Follow The Money

Some management types will not be satisfied with the advice of experts. Some will not be satisfied with the success stories of others. Some will not relinquish their death-grip on the familiar. They are the ones who lean on the crutch of ROI.

To satisfy them, you must tap into the very psyche of corporate culture. You must line up all of the hot buttons that have been hand-sown from generation to generation, quote the corporate mission statement, invoke the ghost of the company founder and haul out the metrics used in previous successful initiatives. Together, these bits and pieces will help you massage the spreadsheet to spell out “Absolute Certainty.” If that doesn’t work, ask them how they quantify the ROI of the telephone system.

If they still won’t listen, it’s time to go into stealth mode and charge after the low-hanging fruit. It’s time to prove that what you’re seeing are not nerdish dreams of electronic alyssum. As the sage in the parable says, converting people to your religion is very easy: Simply show them a miracle. Devote your nights and weekends to getting your human resources department up on an intranet. Rack up thousands of dollars of savings by electronically publishing the employee handbook, the vacation schedule and the annual insurance selection circus. These people have already spent huge sums on documentation management projects with little or no return. You can help them. Then they will stand behind you when you say the Internet changes everything.

The Fear Factor

Your next to last move is to trot out the competition. Heads of corporations understand the threat of being bested by the enemy. They feel the wolf breathing down their necks. They know competitors are dealing with the same industry problems, facing the same production challenges and struggling with the same distribution headaches as they are. If the competition is using the Internet to reach out to customers, build infrastructure and improve internal communications, then maybe, just maybe, your company should be doing those things as well.

As that rarity of rarities, an “experienced” webmaster, your skills are in more demand and your vision is more valuable than they have ever been. But be warned: As the need for Internet connectivity becomes more intuitively obvious, this heightened value will decline. What you know today will become the subject of university classes and a routine topic at management meetings.

There’s a new server error showing up on browsers pointed toward companies that don’t get it: Error 001, Not Competitive, Company Not Found. So, if despite all your best efforts, management still isn’t persuaded, perhaps you should pack up those marketable skills and carry them to greener pastures. After all, if you’re laying your career on the line to convince people who will not be moved, then maybe it’s time to move to where people are convinced.