The best way to convince management to spend money on IT expenses is to understand the relationship IT has to the business as a whole and how the IT department can best help the business thrive. Many business owners and managers see IT only as a cost center, often due to their lack of familiarity with the technology; likewise, many sysadmins view the business operations as providing a budget and a server rack, with no visibility into why the business needs IT.
Mark Burgess (the creator of cfengine) has some fascinating ideas about business-IT alignment, including:
If we ask how to align Business and IT, it makes sense to find the common ground. Science and Business are not all that different. Both do `uncertainty management'. A scientist tries to reduce possible misunderstanding to a minimum and document lasting principles for the future. Sysadmins and engineers try to bring that predictablity to users. Business-folk are trying to engineer predictable streams of revenue in a fickle environment. [...]
What will be the professional shape of system administrators to come? They will have to be increasingly in-tune with their organization's diverse goals. They will ask: what are the core promises of my organization, and what did I do to keep these promises today?
To relate this idea to your current situation, try to look at the issues you're dealing with from the perspective of the business as a whole. Instead of asking the management to give you $10k to purchase one or the other item, prepare a cost-benefits analysis of the things you want to purchase that hits on most of the following points:
- What are the business problem(s) I'm trying to solve?
- Make sure you communicate with management about their plans for the business; perhaps they're planning to enter a new market, which might require new software that's not compatible with the current server, which would completely change your analysis, etc.
- What are the potential costs to the business of not solving these problems?
- Try to be very clear about this point. Don't exaggerate ("the server will go down and everybody will DIE!!"), but don't undersell either; if the costs are severe, management needs to be able to take that into account.
- What are the solutions I've considered, and the costs and benefits of each?
- This does not need to be highly technical, but it will help persuade management that you've done your homework. Also, while preparing the list, you might find a solution you hadn't considered before.
- Count your implementation and support time as a cost; outsourcing services (such as setting up Google Apps to handle email instead of using Exchange) may cost cash money, but the time you save by not micromanaging an Exchange server may have substantial business value.
Many admins make the mistake of seeing a problem solely in technical terms; for example, a system that is out of date needs to be upgraded because it's out of date (it may have poor performance, or be incompatible with the newest applications, etc.). While this may be best practice from a technical perspective, running a business is about balancing costs and benefits and managing risk. If the benefit to the business is, relatively, small, it may not be worth accruing the costs in licensing, testing, your time to implement the upgrade, and also the increased risk of something going wrong.
If you learn to develop and present proposals like this one, you'll find something interesting: you'll start seeing IT as a part of the business whole rather than an independent unit, and management will start becoming much more receptive to your requests when they realize you have that perspective. You'll learn to make what you ask for line up with what management wants to do anyway, and they'll make sure you get whatever resources you need.