Make the most of your IT budget: 10 tips for partnering with your technology vendors

by The Smartsheet Team

January 2, 2024

Each year, the budget season in higher education is like a maze that requires educators and administrators to crack the code anew. Managing budget constraints, tackling funding issues, and an often complex approval add to the seasonal stress, and the increasing demand for transparency and accountability adds yet another layer of pressure. Between juggling deadlines amid the institution’s fiscal year, the state’s fiscal year, the federal fiscal year, and academic calendars it’s no wonder that budget season is crunch time.

As technology becomes even more important in facilitating complex processes on and off campus, it’s important to find vendors who will partner with you for the long term. Vendors can not only provide solutions, but can significantly impact the success of institutions during budget season as well as year round. Knowing this, the Smartsheet Higher Ed Team would like to share some of the lessons we’ve learned from over a decade working with our higher education customers, with 10 actionable insider tips to help you navigate the higher ed budget season.

  1. Identify your real needs: Before investing, identify whether your institution really needs a new software tool or if a process improvement might be the answer. If you discover that the issue is process or prioritization related, consider the ways in which a new technology can help you to address it. Understanding your foundational needs helps ensure that the money you spend with a vendor addresses the actual challenges you are facing, leading to more effective outcomes.
  2. Collaborate with vendors: Actively collaborating with your vendors builds a stronger support system. A partnership approach to negotiations helps you identify your shared objectives, align strategic goals, and ensure that the solutions vendors implement meet the unique needs of your institution, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship.

    Collaborate with vendors


  3. Clearly communicate your goals and limitations: Clear communication is integral to the success or failure of an initiative. Articulating your goals and limitations to your vendors from the outset ensures that you both are on the same page, mitigating potential misunderstandings and paving the way for smoother operations.
  4. Build strong relationships: Strengthening relationships with vendors involves engaging not just with sales representatives but with customer success, trainers, professional services, and the entire account team. Nurturing that human element can help foster a deeper understanding of your institution's needs, leading to better-tailored solutions and improved collaboration throughout the partnership.
  5. Clarify the roles of your IT and Legal departments: Looping in your IT and Legal teams early on is crucial for seamless implementation. IT ensures technical compatibility and efficiency, while Legal provides the necessary compliance and contractual clarity to prevent roadblocks during the execution phase.

    Clarify the roles of your IT and Legal departments


  6. Develop an enterprise solution diagram: An enterprise solution diagram provides a comprehensive overview of how different systems and processes integrate, helping decision-makers understand potential bottlenecks and optimize the overall operational workflow. It serves as a versatile asset applicable to the broader context of budgeting, providing insights that extend even beyond the scope of purchasing specific software solutions.
  7. Consider both value and functionality: While functionality is of paramount importance to the end user, the true value of a service is alignment with your institution's strategic goals. Ensure that you are optimizing your spend by adding capabilities that will contribute significantly to your long term objectives.
  8. Explore opportunities to consolidate your tech stack: Streamlining solutions not only reduces operational complexity but also enhances your efficiency. Many software solutions include features capable of performing tasks that would typically require multiple distinct applications. It is easier to manage and integrate various tools across the institution when they are spread out over fewer programs and systems.
  9. Set money aside for implementation services: When budgeting, don't overlook essential services. Allocate funds for technical support and maintenance, training and professional development, consulting and advisory services, data security and compliance, and facilities management. These services are critical for the ongoing success of any implemented solution, and should be considered accordingly.
  10. Consider multi-year contracts: Opting for multi-year contracts can help to provide financial predictability and strategic advantages. Multi-year contracts allow you to more accurately forecast costs and foster long-term partnerships with your most trusted vendors. These longer-term contracts can also help drive innovation and continuous improvement as your teams become more comfortable working with a familiar product. And, as a bonus, many vendors offer their best pricing on multi-year contracts, saving you money in the long term.

Navigating budget season with confidence

Success in higher education budgeting season lies in proactive planning, collaboration, and leveraging technology. By implementing these insights, decision-makers can not only overcome budgeting challenges but also position their institutions for sustained success in the ever-evolving higher education landscape.

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