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Taming the ITAM Business Case Beast

Business Executives approve a large number of project proposals each year, but also have to reject many others, even though they might offer good business value. What often distinguishes an approved project proposal from a rejected one is the quality, credibility and compelling nature of the information contained within the project’s business case.

Unfortunately, most organisations may already have an incumbent solution or workaround in place for many of its known business problems and issues. So a big challenge facing motivated Business disruptors or innovators is to combat the perceived lower-risk and safer “do nothing” mentality. Getting Senior Leadership to buy into the greater value an innovative, technology driven solution can deliver is not therefore going to be easy.

Put simply, Enterprise ITAM leaders, just like their innovative non-ITAM colleagues, are all competing for scarce business finances and resources in their attempts to take advantage of and promote what they consider to be better business practices and associated technologies. To be successful they will have to make a very compelling case for ITAM funding and associated assets. A strong, well-articulated ITAM business case is therefore a fundamental prerequisite.

For the uninitiated (and even for many seasoned veterans) a business case can be seen as a frightening and out of control beast, blocking the path to your project’s success! The beast is often very large, complex, powerful, time-consuming, unwieldy, eats up as much effort as you can throw at it and is a very difficult to nail down, rapidly moving target.

This article provides pragmatic guidance on the key activities and tasks that need to be performed to tame the beast and produce a compelling and credible ITAM Business Case.

N.B. Readers interested in exploring this topic in greater detail should refer to Jim Maholic’s excellent text “Business Cases that Mean Business”, see [1] and Mahan Khalsa’s “Let’s Get Real Or let’s Not Play”, see [2].

Ten Steps To Creating A Great ITAM Business Case

1. Understand your organization’s business case approvals process. Find out who you will need to convince that the project is worth funding and what information and evidence they will need. Talk to colleagues who have been successful and unsuccessful in previous attempts to get business cases approved. Find out what worked well for them and what didn’t; what were the main challenges they faced and how did they overcome them? What are your organization’s financial approval band ranges? The more investment you ask for the lengthier will be the approvals process and the number of Senior Executives that will need to sign it off. Make sure you have an Executive Sponsor willing to support and help you. A great sponsor will be able to work quietly and effectively from behind the scenes to gain support for your case. Understand how Executives dissect a Business Case and find out what criteria they use to evaluate submissions.

2. Be thorough in your initial research and preparation work. Research into what your competition and peers are doing, especially if they are outperforming your organization; focus mainly on areas of strategic importance. Look for new initiatives, new product announcements or big sales wins where your organization was beaten. These may be useful to support your case for change. A lot of useful information can also be found in analyst reports and company financial reports, especially with regards to future goals and visions. See if the analyst reports over a number of years are showing any interesting trends. Can success/failure be attributed to doing or not doing something? What are the main KPIs being talked about?

3. Spend time identifying and prioritising the ITAM business pains that your business case will help address. What specific ITAM problems need to be solved, or what ITAM improvements are required or what results need to be attained? Must articulate the value earned by solving various ITAM challenges in terms that align with the strategic objectives of the Executives.

4. Gather pragmatic and credible evidence that supports the existence of the identified ITAM problems. Use a range of techniques to help confirm or tease out the ITAM problems and associated evidence e.g. interviews with high-value stakeholders from different departments/perspectives, workshops for more group based discussions and questionnaires. Choose participants who might benefit most from the ITAM changes you are advocating. The goal is to gather evidence that confirms and amplifies the identified problems; evidence that contradicts or questions the problems should also be noted. Short, focused interviews are great for busy Executives. Make sure you quantify the value that solving an ITAM problem will provide.

5. Try to better understand why the ITAM business pain is real. Get practical demonstrations of the problems wherever possible. Intention is to corroborate workshop and interview statements and quotes with physically observable confirmation; helps create a compelling story line.

6. Examine the ITAM problem evidence in detail to make sure it stands up to scrutiny and objectively supports your case. Is there good traceability between solving the ITAM problems and organizational goals? Consider the tangible $ value that solving the problems could provide (benefits estimates should be reasonable, achievable and conservative). What about non-tangible ITAM benefits? Consider if there have been other historical investigations into your benefits areas? What were the conclusions? Document your constraints, assumptions, risks, dependencies and issues as they related to your projected benefits and project. Discuss these with your stakeholders for validation. Document the intangible ITAM benefits your project will provide.

7. Meet with and get commitment from your stakeholders that the ITAM benefits estimations are acceptable (negotiating as necessary). Take care that the ITAM improvements you are proposing don’t reflect badly on their team or their work. Provide reasonable bandwidths for your benefits e.g. Conservative, Realistic, Ambitious. As you gather more intelligence make sure you iterate the benefits estimates to take on board your improved understanding. Watch out for “benefits remorse” (where a stakeholder who previously supported your ITAM benefits estimations, has a change of heart because they fear that they will be held accountable for your savings estimates and that their IT budgets will be correspondingly cut). Determine if there is there enough evidence and value to justify going ahead with your ITAM project?

8. Bring together all the ITAM intelligence and evidence you’ve gathered (from your notes and analyses) to produce a draft of a focused, compelling and articulate business case document which highlights your most important ITAM recommendations. Show very clearly how your proposed solution delivers more value that it costs. Be ready to defend your benefits and costs estimates; naturally, people will always try to push your benefits down and put your costs up! A good guideline is that you benefits should be between x5 to x10 of your planned costs. Highlight your proposed cost reduction and cost avoidance initiatives. Include your non-financial benefits as well e.g. support for strategic initiatives, improving operational efficiency reducing risk, improving security etc. Make it clear why your ITAM initiatives should be implemented sooner rather than later. What makes them so attractive and compelling? Stress why your ITAM solution is better than the status quo. Try and find ways of accelerating the potential ROI e.g. by postponing costs, reducing costs, increasing gains and/or accelerating gains. N.B. Use official business case templates when available.

9. Conduct a thorough review of your ITAM business case. Is it seen to be supporting the enterprise’s mission statement and corporate goals? Does it provide ways to increase revenue (or decrease costs), reduce expenses, decrease risk? Does it show how the organization can become leaner and more efficient? Is it aligned with the need to solve specific organization problems or circumstances? Is it compelling? Where are its weaknesses? Is the provided evidence sufficiently strong? Get them to think of 5 reasons why someone might reject it; mitigate those reasons. Get friendly stakeholders and the Executive Sponsor to provide their thoughts.

10. Prepare for delivering the ITAM Business Case. Get the Executive Sponsor to have one final look at your work and see if any improvements can be found. Make a note of the questions that the Approvals’ Board will likely ask you. When ready, package your information into three main sections:

• Executive Summary: Contains the complete summary of the proposal on a single slide; maybe one bullet point to summarise each of the main presentation body slides

• Main Document Body: Keep this as focused and relevant as possible; do not have scores of slides, so try and limit this section to maybe 15 to 20 slides max. Once you’ve created your content then practice, practice, practice. Try and find something in your Business Case that you know is weak and you hope no one asks a question about; either beef it up or find mitigation?

Content should include slides for:

 The agenda
 The ITAM business problems identified
 Your problem validation approaches
 Participating stakeholders (plus any of their supporting quotes)
 Evidence supporting the existence of the ITAM business problems
 External evidence from competitors or peers who used your ITAM suggestions
 Project success assumptions
 Risks, threats and associated implications
 Project costs and benefits
 Other solutions you investigated and your rejection rationale
 Project implementation plan and timeline
 Resources that your project will require
 Your recommendations and what you want the Approvers to approve
 Immediate next steps
 Acknowledgement and thanks to the people who helped you.

Once it’s all over, conduct a retrospective with your Exec Sponsor to assess how well you performed and how you can improve your future business cases

• Appendices: All useful and possibly too detailed supporting material should be put into the Appendix

SUMMARY

A great business case may not guarantee success, but a bad one will guarantee failure!
References

[1] “Business Cases that Mean Business: A practical guide to identifying, calculating and communicating the value of large scale IT projects” by Jim Maholic. ISBN: 1481246763

[2] “Let’s Get Real Or Let’s Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa. ISBN: 13: 9781591842262

About Laurence James

Laurence James is the Senior Solution Architect for Flexera Software.