IT budget benchmarks continue to be a hot topic for CIOs, especially in the wake of a recession that has caused companies to cut IT budgets to the bone.

To help CIOs defend their budget levels, determine whether more cuts are in order, and build the case for increased IT spending, Forrester provides annual IT budget benchmarks, based on data from our global IT budget and spending surveys.

Our most recent survey provides a preliminary look at the 2010 IT budget benchmarks based on responses from 1,000 IT executives and technology decision-makers from SMB and enterprise companies globally. The results indicate continued budget restraint among CIOs, with more than 60 per cent of respondents reporting that their capital, as well as their total IT spending, would be less or the same as 2009.

As a result, the majority of IT organisations said that they would focus on reducing the ongoing operations and maintenance budget as a way to both deliver some margin improvement while also enabling some investment for critical needs such as delayed infrastructure refreshes and mandatory initiatives resulting from regulatory requirements.

Forrester calls this part of the IT budget the IT MOOSE budget, with MOOSE being an acronym for IT spending to Maintain and Operate the Organisation, Systems, and Equipment.

Figure: Total IT Spending And IT MOOSE Spending As A Percent Of Revenues By Industry
Base:1,032 IT decision makers. Source: Forrsights Budgets and Prioritiies Tracker Survey

For several years, Forrester has been recommending that companies focus their benchmarking efforts primarily on the IT MOOSE portion of their IT budget, rather than the total IT budget. We have argued that this IT MOOSE budget is a better item to benchmark for three reasons:

MOOSE is more consistent from year to year
It lacks the yearly variation of the new project portfolio, which will rise or fall as strategic business priorities change and as discretionary IT project spending expands or contracts with the economic cycle.

MOOSE is more consistent between companies
Companies in the same industry will have different new project portfolios depending on where they are in adopting new technologies.

Less MOOSE is generally more desirable
The total IT budget combines one element that firms generally want more of — new initiative and project spending — with another element that they mostly want less of — ongoing operations and maintenance.

By looking just at the IT MOOSE budget, CIOs are looking at the portion of the IT budget that they want to reduce.

What should be included in IT MOOSE will vary depending on the three parts of the IT budget:

1. IT MOOSE in the IT operating budget is expensed IT operations and maintenance costs. The salary, benefits, and travel and expense costs of the CIO and direct reports are IT MOOSE costs, as are the similar costs for IT staff that primarily have operational and maintenance responsibilities.

2. IT MOOSE in the IT capital budget is replacement equipment or added capacity. Replacing four-year-old PCs and five-year-old servers with new ones are IT MOOSE capital investments. We also consider adding capacity to support organic business growth to be an IT MOOSE capital investment.

3. IT depreciation is mostly IT MOOSE. Depreciation on capital investments made in prior years is also IT MOOSE. First-year depreciation on PCs, servers, or storage — capital investments that replace old equipment or add capacity in the current budget year — should be considered as IT MOOSE.

Efficiency And Profitable Growth Drivers
The same Forrester survey also asked about IT management, technology, and business priorities. In most cases, SMBs closely aligned with enterprise organisations across all three categories.

The top two priorities for both SMB and enterprise organisations involved improving efficiency through streamlining business processes and improving the overall efficiency of IT by implementing initiatives such as Lean IT.

From a technology perspective, SMB and enterprise organisations were in complete agreement on the top five priorities with the exception of the order of the first two. SMBs had "significantly upgrade disaster recovery and business continuity capabilities" and "consolidate IT infrastructure" as number one and two, respectively; enterprise organisations had them reversed. Priorities three through five were the same for SMB and enterprise organisations. Significantly, both constituencies were going to pay a lot of attention to mobility and collaboration technologies.

When it came to business priorities, again there was complete agreement on what the top five priorities were with the exception of a slight change in order for number four and five. "Grow overall company revenue," "lower the firm's overall operating costs," and "acquire and retain customers" took the top three spots for both SMB and enterprise organisations.

Craig Symons is vice president at Forrester Research, where he serves CIOs. He is a leading expert on deriving business value from IT investments and a regular blogger.