In the third of a series of four articles covering 2020 planning, we look at how to make the business case for your strategy and any related investment.
If you have defined a strategy for your digital channels that you plan to implement in 2020 it is likely you will need to make a related business case in order to get formal sign-off for your approach and argue for any related budget. This is not always straight-forward.
Many organisations have a relatively mature approach to budgeting and business cases that will determine the specifics of the process and format of what you do. This can vary from organisation to organisation and also in levels of formality. There can also be different processes that apply to different levels of spending. For example, you may have considerably less people to convince if your level of spending is under a particular threshold. There can also be different formats involved – a particular document template to be completed, or a presentation to make.
Despite there being no “cookie-cutter approach” or convenient template to making a business case there are approaches and principles that we often find repeated across our customer base. Here is our view on ten key principles for making a business case. While most of these will not come as a surprise, it can be a handy list to sense check your business case before submitting it.
An effective business case doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s very important that your business case aligns with your own broader website and digital channels strategy, but also to wider organisational, digital and functional objectives. When you can make the alignment explicit and obvious, then the more convincing your digital strategy is.
It’s very likely that you will need input and sign-off from different stakeholders across your organisation on your business case, especially if it is for a major project like a new website, CMS or even objective such as achieving compliance. If it involves major spending it could trigger a formal RFP process which will inevitably involve a wider group. There may also be others who are not formally involved in approval but may be influential.
You can make it much easier on yourself by going and speaking to different functional stakeholders to pave the way for your business case. If you do this months in advance it can make approval easier, with your business case more of a formal reflection of conversations that have already taken place.
Of course, your business case takes a strategic view, but you may need to be more tactical in what to include to get it passed. Unfortunately, organisations are highly political; you will need to consider the agendas of different stakeholders. It can be helpful to include particular elements that will appeal to individual functional agendas, ensuring each key stakeholder can see “what’s in it for me”. Other classic tactical approaches include having less essential elements (“nice to have”) in your business case that can be cut out of your business case, making it more likely the essential core investments remain untouched. Getting approval can be a bit of a “game” which you may need to play.
Compliance with regulatory and legal obligations as well as approaches that minimise risk are usually oxygen for business cases. These are things that organisations MUST do.; including these in your business case is obvious so that approval becomes a no-brainer. We’ve found there is often ignorance over actually what legal obligations are, particularly in relation to accessibility compliance for digital channels. Any business case should explain what needs to be done, what can potentially happen if something isn’t done, and how the investment can help.
Besides risk issues, cost savings are the lifeblood of most business cases. Everybody loves cost savings, particularly your finance director. There are lots of approaches to take here including direct cost savings gained from replacing one system through to showing softer gains and cost avoidance. Showing the potential savings over different periods (one year, multiple years etc.) can also prove valuable. This is a huge topic in itself and you may also need to focus on elements such as the advantages of operating expenses versus capital expenses too, phased payments and more.
In our post on creating your strategy we emphasised the importance of carrying our research. Including data from your research, for example about the way customers behave or on the performance of other products, is essential for making a good business case. Generally, credible numbers speak volumes, but it also helps to include stories, anecdotes and even quotes that can act as an emotional counterpoint to the data. Specific stories can really resonate, helping to win over hearts as well as minds.
Often an investment has a range of benefits, although their realisation may occur in different time periods. Ensure you focus on the benefits for the short, medium and long term. For example, sometimes customers start using Sitemorse because they want to achieve accessibility compliance as an immediate priority or need to a tool to assess compliance for a new website. However, the benefits for digital quality and improvement for the medium term and an upskilled digital team for the longer term are also important arguments for business case.
Sometimes you may have some sceptical stakeholders who are looking for a hole in your business case, or really need extra convincing. It’s absolutely key that your business case remains credible in order to get everybody behind it. Over the years we’ve seen business cases that are mainly well-argued but have a couple of outlandish, over-ambitious or tenuous claims for benefits that then cause people to question the whole of the business case. On the other hand, some business cases can prove to be vague and wishy-washy. Ensure that your business case is as credible, believable and as direct as possible.
Making a business case can be time-consuming and once you’ve submitted that document for approval, it can be tempting to sit back and see what happens. However, it’s usually important to continue the effort particularly with stakeholder management. Is there a follow-up meeting you can organise with a stakeholder to answer any questions or make clarifications? Are there other influential people who should view the business case and can add a supportive viewpoint? There is always more convincing that can be done. It’s also worth considering that investment decisions can be watered down or even reversed once approved, so there’s always an argument still to be made.
If you are making a huge investment, need more convincing data or have nervous stakeholders who perceive your proposed approach as high risk then it’s always worth considering a pilot, proof of concept or phased approach that can demonstrate the value of a product or approach. This can help you refine any business case too. For example, with Sitemorse we’ve found that because teams have the ability to try the power of the platform out with low levels of spending involved, the business case can be much easier to make once the benefits have been experienced. We believe in ‘try before you buy’!
Making the business case for an investment can take time and effort, but often that’s what needs to be done. Use this article as a starting point to consider your approach. In our final article in this series of four, we’ll be looking at what needs to be done to actually make all your proposed changes and approaches happen.