The winning business case for business intelligence

The novelty has worn off Business Intelligence (BI) as it expanded over the years into many organizations. BI is no longer some Skunk Works adventure that operates independently of the formal organization with little or no oversight beyond nominal executive-level sponsorship. BI projects have become subject to more traditional governance processes that include formal approval of a credible business case and ongoing oversight by the Project Management Office.

Interest in BI has grown and matured because:

  1. BI has produced irrefutable business value.
  2. The cost to develop BI has decreased significantly as development tools have become more powerful and the cost of computing has decreased.
  3. BI opportunities have grown sharply as more and more organizations have become digital often through a digital business strategy.
  4. BI is now recognized as the key to creating business value from big data.

How do you develop a winning BI business case that sells your BI project? How do you avoid becoming tangled up by challenges to the business case and delayed by internal hoop-jumping processes to the detriment of the business value you want to deliver through your BI project? Here are some BI business case strategies to consider.

Avoid a BI business case altogether

The first strategy to consider is avoiding a BI business case altogether. In this approach, you say:

  1.  We’ve identified a tantalizing business opportunity.
  2.  We think a BI application will help us capture that opportunity.
  3.  We’re not sure if the opportunity is as real as it appears.
  4.  We need only a small amount of funding, typically less than $100,000, to conduct some analysis and then build an exploratory BI prototype.
  5.  If the exploratory prototype is successful, you’ll come back with a more formal project proposal that includes a BI business case.

When the business opportunity addresses a real problem and the investment is low, avoiding a BI business case altogether can be a successful strategy for securing BI project funding.

Avoid an intense BI business case

If the first strategy causes eyes to roll among stakeholders because your organization insists on being a little more structured upfront, then develop a modest business case. By modest, I mean a one-page business case for an initial exploratory BI prototype consisting of:

  1.  A modest cost estimate of five to eight lines with a lower and higher range.
  2.  A conservative tangible benefit estimate of two to three lines with a lower and higher range.
  3.  A reasonable intangible benefit list of three to five lines.

Avoid an intense BI business case that first tries to plan BI project tasks in detail and then claims to estimate that work in even more detail. Not only does all this planning require a lot of effort, these early numbers will be wildly different from eventual reality. Worse, this detail is not likely to increase your likelihood of funding approval.

Avoid an implausible BI business case

If your sponsor, rejects your modest business case as insufficient, then a winning strategy is to develop a project charter that includes a business case. A simple project charter consists of:

  1. The opportunity that you see.
  2. A rough project plan.
  3. A summary business case.
  4. The project organization.
  5. A risk list.

Avoid the temptation to develop an astounding business case, even if you believe it, because that will be received by stakeholders as an implausible BI business case.

Worse, an implausible BI business case ratchets the organization’s expectations so high that you risk being judged a failure even if you deliver huge business benefits.

Avoid a hefty enterprise-wide BI business case

In all cases, avoid a strategy that lays out a hefty enterprise-wide BI business case. BI is better implemented through a series of modest, focused projects that successively deliver more tangible business benefits.

An enterprise-wide BI project faces enormous people change management hurdles, major data integration challenges and too many inter-departmental non-co-operation issues to achieve success.

Even if it an executive is prepared to fund and sponsor an enterprise-wide BI roll out, this project is more likely to turn into a quagmire that you don’t want to be associated with. 

What strategy would you pursue to develop a winning business case for a BI project to tackle an opportunity in your organization?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

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