In my organisation I build financial products, for mutual funds, 401Ks, life insurance and margin-loans (or the equivalent in my jurisdiction).
I take feature/epic requests from product managers - plan a project, design the software changes, provide costings, lead the team, drive the change through the organisation, support on the release day, and provide warranty and training after the release.
I rock up to my performance review and hear "well, you're in a cost-centre - so the organisation doesn't really see you as helping move it forward."
Now I can provide a list of the costs of the projects I've delivered, I can talk about operational savings internally, I can talk about how I've uplifted the development about other programmers - but it doesn't seem to matter.
My question is: What do you do to articulate your benefit as a programmer in an organisation where you are a cost-centre?
It is unfortunate that there are some organizations which have a mindset that only their profit-centers matter for their success and the cost-centers are an annoying necessity which should be marginalized away.
One way to open up their eyes about how important their cost-centers are is to express their worth in how they contributed to the success of the profit-centers.
- Profit-Center X made 10 bazillion revenue last year.
- A new feature in the software you made makes them approximately 25% more productive.
- You reason that without that feature they would have made only 8 bazillion.
- That means you made the company 2 bazillion profit last year.
But keep in mind that when your organization is large, then you don't just need to convince your direct superior what you are worth. He might have a limit of what he is allowed to pay to a cost-center work drone in a cost-center team of a cost-center department in a cost-center division. He might need to convince his boss who needs to convince her boss who needs to convince his boss. This might be a battle against windmills.
In the long-run you want to be attached to a profit-center, not a cost-center. To quote the excellent article Don't Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice by Patrick McKenzie:
Profit Centers are the part of an organization that bring in the bacon: partners at law firms, sales at enterprise software companies, “masters of the universe” on Wall Street, etc etc. Cost Centers are, well, everybody else. You really want to be attached to Profit Centers because it will bring you higher wages, more respect, and greater opportunities for everything of value to you. It isn’t hard: a bright high schooler, given a paragraph-long description of a business, can usually identify where the Profit Center is. If you want to work there, work for that. If you can’t, either a) work elsewhere or b) engineer your transfer after joining the company.
Software developers are usually only considered profit-centers in companies which are in the business of selling software. Maybe you can lobby your company to sell your software to other companies or to sell software to customers (pay-by-copy or as-a-service). But maybe the best career move might be to move to a company which calls itself a software company.
If you are in a place labelled "cost centre", then the usual thing is that your departement charges the other departments internally, at a rate that makes your cost centre profitable, and that can be compared to outsourcing the same task.
Tell them that they are not paying a competitive salary right now, and their attitude makes it clear that the salary they intend to be will be only less competitive in the future. The obvious consequence is that you will be looking for a better position elsewhere.