Are you using best practice for your business case preparation?

Building a business case is a familiar and routine process for any IT investment project. But is there a possibility that it has become too familiar? Is the usual in-house approach always the best way or, under certain circumstances, are there more sensible and effective options?

This article looks at some of the issues and challenges of ‘business case preparation’ in large Enterprises and suggests some best practice guidelines.

Knowns and Unknowns

Broadly speaking, there are two high-level elements required to carry-out and complete a business case:

  1. Solutions shortlist and costings estimates; and
  2. Financial ROI and business benefit projections.

However, the unknown factor is how a new, unfamiliar solution is going to be delivered into the business – as, often, the business or IT department lacks the in-house skills or knowledge about the product or capability that will be delivered.

So, while the overall process might sound familiar, certain unknowns can make the reality of producing a solid IT business case a difficult, more-risky prospect. Consider whether the people writing the business case are knowledgeable in the solutions they’re assessing? Have they ever been involved in a project to implement that solution before? Let’s say your business case is leaning towards implementing a new SaaS package. The solution might look great on paper, but how is your organization going to mold itself around the new implementation in order to maximize the solution’s feature set? It may be that you simply don’t have the organizational agility to make these changes – and this could wreak havoc on the business. With all these risks, your business case may fail to identify a massive hidden cost.

As a crude example, a more decentralised organisation would have greater concerns about the adoption rates of a complex system. How can they make sure that offices all over the country, or even the world, will make the changes required to leverage the system’s power in the way that the business case intended?  Without previous experience of that solution, you could literally bring your organization to a standstill because your business case didn’t identify a particular risk.

Business case evolution

If you’ve been involved with preparing business cases for some time, then a change of perspective may be needed. The mentality around evaluation of a business case is different to what it was five years ago.

Previously there were more customisable on-premise solutions in the market than there was cloud-based turn-key solutions. This meant that common thinking was more around forcing the business’ processes on to the software through customization – reducing the need to change existing business processes. But with the growth of cloud-based solutions, the most successful organisations understand the benefits of morphing themselves around certain fixed solution sets.

A key to understanding the evolution that has taken place is realising that business and IT are no longer separate but are intrinsically connected – so the people involved in pulling together the solutions side of your business case need to understand both sides of the equation.

Business case best practice today

So how can you best manage business case production to reduce, or even eliminate these risks?

  1. Involve the right people – independent ‘agenda-free’ technology people which may include business analysts, solutions architects and subject matter experts. These individuals know how your business works and how the solution fits into the overall business vision.
  2. Gather detailed requirements from the business – and don’t just look for gaps in the solution feature set, but also look for gaps in the way your business operates. Often, the functionality available in a specific solution can give your business a nudge towards better operation. 
  3. Estimate the cost and complexity of using the standard capabilities of a solution – these include the cost of molding your business processes to work with those features. Perhaps a smaller, more agile organisation would be able to alter its internal culture and processes more quickly to leverage the standard set of capabilities. Perhaps a larger enterprise would need more change management or possibly some customisation. The cost saving of deploying the off-the-shelf solution will reap rewards later – just don’t ignore the internal cost of getting there.
  4. Beware vested interests – watch out for advice from parties that have a vested interest in either writing or supporting the code for a custom development. The classic we see is existing implementation partners, embedded elsewhere in a business, cross-selling themselves in to something they have little-to-no experience in. You may find your enterprise locked in to a damaging service contract that is far too costly to break. Beware! Ensuring independence when choosing the people that will produce your business cases may be the most important step.
  5. Work closely with your finance team – you’ll need financial modelling on the solutions, generally prepared by a project manager or financial expert from within the organisation. In Fusion Professionals’experience, different organisations financially model in quite distinct ways and your business case needs to align with your methodology. Do you need to work on average daily rates of implementation resources? Or does your organization consider this a sunk cost already?

There is a far more accurate and simpler way to do complex business cases…

Organisations often find it a challenge to complete the team required to manage the business case process and tick the boxes above. Project managers are typically tied up on a range of developments and may not be able to give the business case process enough focus. Even if they can devote the time, they may lack impartiality and specific solution-based expertise.

Getting the business case right is essential to the success of any IT project, and ultimately the overall business, but the process of producing one can be a real headache and a drain on resources. Enlisting an external, independent expert for your business case development will expedite its delivery and increase the quality of the final version presented to your executive team.

Fusion Professionals have made a name for ourselves doing exactly this. Have a browse through our ‘Fusion Insights’ blog to get an idea of the independent expertise we can bring to the table as a technical expert voice on your team, particularly around preparing a scored evaluation of solution capabilities against your business needs.

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