IT Project Funding: Experts Reveal How to Get Approval

Experts reveal oral presentation tips on what it takes for project approval and funding.

by / March 3, 2008

Walking into a room full of agency reviewers who have the power to decide the fate of your IT proposal takes courage. You already know you're among the select few who have advanced this far, and therefore, your proposal is being considered carefully. But now you must conduct an oral presentation that demonstrates the same level of commitment that, so far, has propelled you forward in the selection process.

It's not enough to be excited about your project; you want the reviewers to share your enthusiasm by the time you finish your presentation. However, the questions still remain: How do you stand out from the competition and win the favor of the reviewers? And how can you possibly anticipate what the reviewers will expect of you during the oral presentation phase?

These tips may help.

Communication is Key
As the assistant city manager and interim IT director/CIO of Des Moines, Iowa, Mike Matthes reviews IT projects on an ongoing basis. They key, he says, is to communicate well.  "You have got to think through exactly what the points are that you are trying to make." 

In his role as interim IT director, he's reviewed about five proposals per month submitted by a combination of outside vendors and internal staff members. Based on those experiences, Matthes said he believes that respondents must be able to answer clearly the following questions when they step foot into the interview room: "Why is this proposal a good one?" and "What problems does it solve?"

It may sound easy, but when you're trying to appeal to more than one reviewer, how do you know what points to emphasize in your oral presentation?

Matthes suggests one of your main priorities should be to demonstrate that you have the support of everyone who has made a commitment to the project. For example, if he interviews a firm that has responded to an RFP, then he wants everyone involved in the project on the telephone line.

"I may ask them one question in half an hour, but you must demonstrate that you can do the project," he said. "And that means I want to see the horsepower you have."

Other basic do's and don'ts that Matthes suggests include the following:
Avoid using buzzwords that may cause the reviewers' eyes to glaze over, such as "collaboration," "interface," "critical mass," and "business intelligence." Also eliminate any type of sales jargon that might turn off the reviewers.

Don't present a manifesto. Give a brief summation of your key selling points and use bullet points to highlight essential information.

When explaining central ideas, use metaphors that reviewers can easily understand.

Limit your presentation to 15 minutes. However, do not use up valuable time by reading slides or other printed materials that are also being passed out to the reviewers.

If you must include a PowerPoint presentation, limit the number of slides to 10, and only use two bullet points per slide. Then, if possible, use schematics or other graphic illustrations to highlight your main ideas.

Restrict the length of handouts to one page.

Sometimes the emphasis of an IT project isn't necessarily to add capability, he said, as much as it is to maintain the capabilities that an organization or agency already has. That can definitely be a tough sell. "That is why I have to trust you. If you are asking me for a lot of money, I have to trust that you are going to deliver."

In essence, applicants must be both truthful and accurate in the presentation, and not misrepresent their capabilities or abilities, said Bill Beveridge, director of Colorado's Unemployment Insurance Operations. By initiating the review

process, Beveridge said, the agency wants to identify the best possible candidate from the pool of potential bidders. In turn, if the reviewers have questions during the presentation, then the respondent must be able to provide complete answers. 

"Try to stay up with the most current technology - hardware applications, that type of thing," he said. "You are looking far beyond not using something that would be considered obsolete. You are looking for something that is finding the best solution for the problem."

Dale Bowen, director of professional development for the Public Technology Institute, a nonprofit technology research and development organization focused on local governments, concurs with Beveridge's views.

"Do your homework," Bowen said. "Know the background of the agency that you are applying for funding from."

Because Bowen primarily serves the CIOs, GIS coordinators and Web directors of cities and counties, the priorities to which he is referring are generally set by mayors or other elected officials such as council members.

"Whomever you have established as your primary contact must be knowledgeable about any major initiatives and priorities that the IT department and the administration are focusing on," Bowen said.

Marjorie Rubenstein, a supervisor for the Technology Acquisition Section of the Procedure Division for the California Department of General Services, suggests that applicants shy away from a sales-presentation approach because IT officials will tune out.

"We usually don't like to hear the whole 'dog and pony show' about what the bidder has ever done," said Rubenstein.

In other words, reviewers want to know you can demonstrate a successful track record in terms of implementing solutions that have been outlined in your application.

Other Side of the Table
When setting up an oral presentation, giving those coming to present a little guidance never hurts.

"Provide an outline for the people who are coming to present and tell them what you want to know. Tell them the time limits on each item." said Lisa Meyerson, the strategic initiatives unit chief with the Government Information Technology Agency, the IT strategic and oversight agency for Arizona.

Meyerson has 10 years experience in government procedure for IT projects, and has been dealing with contracts for more than two decades.  "Choose those topics carefully, and request that they discuss the areas that will be critical to help the evaluation committee make the best decisions on behalf of the state," she said. "It will help you to get a f uller picture of their solution and enable you to have a better apples-to-apples comparison between the solutions."

And according to Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, presenting a winning bid isn't strictly about offering a technology plan that works: Demonstrating your understanding that a partnership is being formed is also important. "The states want to focus on what type of innovation you are going to bring to the table in terms of a solution," he said.

What is the best way to garner the attention of the reviewers when you're asked to present your IT proposal?

According to the experts, conciseness is vital, as is the ability to recognize and respond to the priorities set by committee members and the municipalities they represent.

Before you enter the room to present your proposal to the decision-makers, keep in mind these experts' advice about what it takes to gain project approval and funding.

Suzane Bricker Contributing Writer
Suzane Bricker has extensive experience as a grant writer for educational institutions and social services agencies, and has secured funding for her own nonprofit organization in south Florida. She has a master's degree in mass communication with a minor emphasis in science writing.