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A new framework for IS-Business Cases

22 Feb


We have chosen to begin our framework by introducing a Business Canvas to introduce the successful components of a business case. They are outlined as;

  1. Drivers
  2. Objectives
  3. People
  4. Change
  5. Benefits
  6. Costs
  7. Risks
  8. Post-Evaluation.

Business Case Canvas

 Mobile phone company that is experiencing increased customer defections caused by a combination of service failures and the extended product and service offerings of competitors.


We believe that with any framework or business model undertaking including both frameworks and ERDs, the firm should also implement the Canvas as a tool of monitoring finances, customers, targets, goals and potential hazards of the model can be identified in the primary stage of development, an important feature to help to maintain the success and alignment of any implementing model.

Figure X: Developing a successful business proposal.



1) Drivers

Our framework begins with the drivers of the IS business case. Drivers are required in order to make decisions and set objectives for a business. They do this by providing a foundation for setting goals in order for a business to strive and have targets to hit.

These drivers consist of both internal and external drivers. The internal drivers are the situations or events that occur inside the business, and are generally under the control of the company. Some examples of these are:

  • Management Systems
  • Financial Management
  • Employee Morale
  • Reducing customer fall-off

The external drivers, on the other hand, are the events and situations that occur outside of the company and are usually beyond the control of the company. Some examples of these are:

  • Economy
  • Demographics
  • Competition
  • Political Interference

2) Objectives

After the drivers have been identified, the framework progresses to identifying the objectives of the business. These objectives are usually aligned with the drivers and are specific to the company. There are three primary objectives for a business case:

  • To present decision-makers with key information about a business proposal in a consistent, balanced format that facilitates the evaluation, comparison, and prioritising of competing initiatives.
  • To guide teams in developing their vision and plans to prepare for an upcoming project.
  • To ensure that resources are allocated based on a sound business rationale and consistent with the priorities of the sponsor organisation.

3) People

This involves including a diverse range of skills, departments and people. The Belbin personality test will ensure a broad range including creative types, leaders and the conscientious dissenters which ensure the creation of a fair and balanced IS-business case.

The role of the manager/leader is paramount. The smart leader though involves other actors from outside the IS sphere benefits and problems arising are shared out amongst the user community. This is achieved by involving all departments of the firm and by aligning the needs of these departments with that of the business case. Support for the business case is also built through this method.

By involving the right mix of both technical and non-technical you are spreading the importance throughout the firm

4) Change

Before the implementation begins business cases must highlight potential conflicting interests, resistance/immunity to change and general office politics. For instance if the workforce is heavily unionized then chances is that there will be heavy resistance to any IS automation of processes. Business cases must take this into consideration when justifying the investment.

All business cases must be made in the context of the firms current environment, its organizational culture resistance to change is a natural reaction from a workforce proper transparency and communication can alleviate this problem while the necessity of the investment and the overall vision must be made clear to employees.

  • People change
  • Process change
  • Organizational change

5) Benefits

Having agreed on the objectives of the investment, what users to involve and planned for change, management must now identify the expected benefits that will arise if the objectives are achieved. These are the advantages provided to specific groups or individuals as a result of meeting the overall objectives. For most investments, meeting each of the objectives will usually generate a number of benefits to many different groups of users. Once the expected benefits from the investment have been identified, they can be managed by:

a)      Deciding how the benefit can/will be measured; and

b)      Attaching an owner to the benefit.

  • All financial benefits are the result of applying a financial value to a proven quantifiable benefit. For example, projected positive financial outcomes as a result of achieving an objective – such as cost savings or increased profits – are readily accepted as business benefits and are easily expressed in financial terms.
  • Non-financial or non-quantifiable benefits must be translated into something that has some financial value or meaning. For instance, customer satisfaction is commonly referred to as being a “soft” or “intangible” benefit due to its inability to be directly measured.
  • These non-financial benefits will be expressed as a financial value through their measurement value expressed within already identified KPIs; through existing tangible measures such as customer satisfaction survey scores, customer retention rates and so on; or through methods such as piloting and external benchmarking.
  • Making individuals – particularly those in senior positions within the organisation – benefit owners not only builds commitment to a project but also demonstrates the importance of the investment, adding weight and reputation to the business case. This owner ideally is an individual who personally gains from the benefit or represents the interests of the user group that gain from the benefit. This owner thus is willing to closely assist the project team in ensuring the benefit is realised.

6) Costs

Costs can be divided in to five sections:

  • Purchasing costs which deals with initial purchase of software and hardware like licence fees and telecommunications.
  • Development, the cost incurred here occurs when training up staff and developing programs and systems to meet the needs of the firm, given the uncertainty often surrounding I.S. projects this element often overuns.
  • Infrastructure both internal and external costs occur through the changes that must occur to accommodate the system.

It is important to also include recurring costs associated with the new system once it goes live. Cost of changes must also be included and are often the most elusive because they are so difficult to predict particularly when there is a wide variety of stakeholders involved.

7) Risks

One of the primary risks with any framework is the fear that the overall framework results in loss of alignment with the company goals and targets. To prevent such measures it is strongly recommended that any business case be continually monitored in relation to the initial objectives and ensure alignment. Simply ensuring continual monitoring can help decrease any degree of risks by identifying problem areas at an early stage.

One method that could prevent risks becoming problematic may be to carry out Risk Assessments at regular intervals. The assessment helps to identify risks associated with specific pre-determined circumstances unique to the company as well as giving recommendations of how to alleviate the issues before they become a significant issue

  • Technical Risks- The overall difficulty in determining the boundaries of the system.
  • Organizational Risks- Leadership absence with little to no senior or ministerial responsibility being designated.
  • Lack of communication between associated stakeholders, lack of team integration and issues between business users, technicians and clients.
  • Misalignment between firm’s strategic targets and the overall priorities of the framework with no agreed measures of success.
  • Financial Risks outlined in costs below but also the project runs the risk of significant overrun potential derailing the entire project.

8) Post-Evaluation

A final note should be considered for the post-business case stage. Evaluation of the effects of the initiative after it has been implemented is a key element which is sometimes overlooked in preparation of a business case but is vital in transferring the lessons learned to new projects. Without post-implementation evaluation of the proposal the business case is not complete.


The difference between a good business case and a bad one is pretty easy to spot. A good one involves multiple players, tangible metrics, constantly updated and reviewed and is employed as a touchstone for decision-making concerning things such as budget, benefits, costs and key drivers. Business cases aren’t a box ticking exercise, they uncover hidden costs, agendas, preconceived notions all designed to stimulate discussion and create informed decision making. With the framework we have created we believe that brings the dispirit elements of the IS-business case together to offer a comprehensive step-by-step guide as to how management teams can create successful business cases.

The Business Case playbook

8 Feb

Business cases can come across as a box ticking exercise. However it is vital that your IT-Business cases the below sections and skills. It is divided between “Elements” and “Expertise” to help managers develop a framework for creating IS-Business cases.  The table below provides an excellent step by step guide when developing your business case.


These are heading under which one can build a business case, they include;

Defining strategic vision

Strategic Critical Factors (High level actors)


Return in Investment



Key stakeholders

Key performance indicators (measuring success or failures)

Business Benefits (Cost savings, revenue opportunities, process efficiencies)

Strategic change drivers

Risk Analysis (technical and non-technical, what happens if we do nothing?)

Project scope.


These are essential basic skills for creating a thorough business case.

Thorogh research skills

Essay writing and presentation skills (who is the report intended for

Industry knowledge (so as to benchmark progess of the project)

A step by step guide


The role of the Conscientious Dissenter on an IT-Business case team

6 Feb

The personnel involved in writing a business case varies widely depending on the company or organization, along with project managers and the managers of key functions that might be affected by a project’s production, including marketing, manufacturing and finance. In a small business, some of these roles may be filled by one person; in a large business, the roles may be filled by a matrix of interlocking teams.(1)

While the business case may deal primarily with the financial justification for the IT project there is also need to include different perspectives to ensure IT goals are aligned with those of the company as a whole (which you can read about read here).  But what of the character s that make up this group?

Well according to Belbin’s teamwork you will need a specialist in the form of an IT manager or executive, the co-ordinator or leader who takes the initiative, assigns roles etc., resource investigator perhaps someone in finance or project accountant who judges the cost-benefit of a given project. Also there must be a “Shaper” or “Implementer” an individual who drive the case forward. In my experience it often the “Shaper” who forms the opinion of the group and thus places undue pressure on others to produce the “correct” result.

Therefore the role of the “Monitor Evaluator” is one of great importance; this is the conscientious dissenter, someone who will not be swayed by the opinion of the group, someone who is not afraid to ask the tough questions. This person acts as a perfect foil for the aggressive forward thinking of a “Shaper” or “Implementer” and can bring the group back to an objective thinking style.

ronnoc90 and lucid21 both mention in their work on IT Success how appropriate staff (be it IT or otherwise) can lead to IT project success. I would argue that this should be extended to include appropriate personalities in the situation of creating a fair and balanced IT-business case.

From personal experience working with a “conscientious dissenter” can be a pain, slowing the pace of completion, asking seemingly obvious questions. However the value of this person became much more apparent at the when we handed in a polished, detailed report. When it comes to forming business case teams managers must seek out and include these dissenters.




Smart leaders create better cases

3 Feb

“70% of IT enabled initiatives are plagued with unclear business objectives, missing-in-action executive support and inadequate user involvement.”(1)

Business leaders often complain that business cases read more like a work of fiction than a real world scenario. More JRR Tolkien than Harvard Business Review then, savvy business executives have long figured out how to manipulate their managers into getting their project approved. Therefore IT-Business cases are often driven by the selfish needs of the individual rather than that of the organization.

How can we put an end to this tyranny?

Proper planning, specifying metrics and baselines are a crucial first step. A clear trail of accountability leading back to the executives who made the commitments will focus minds. Lastly outside factors must also be taken into consideration; how imitable is the system, how strong are our competitors and what is the overall health of the economy is (1).

The role of the manager/leader is paramount. (2) Monte Ford writing in the HBR points out that Ceo’s and other senior management often lack the technical knowledge to question IT decisions. The smart leader though involves other actors from outside the IT sphere benefits and problems arising are shared out amongst the user community. This ties back to the business leader role in building support for the project by aligning the needs of the firm with that of the selfish individual.

The difference between a good business case and a bad one is pretty easy to spot. A good one involves multiple players, tangible metrics, constantly updated and reviewed and is employed as a touchstone for decision-making concerning things such as budget, scope and key drivers. Contrastingly a bad one is instantly forgotten about as soon as the project is approved and who’s primary function is as a dust collector on the shelf.

As pointed out by myself here and Mr. steepletoes business cases aren’t a box ticking exercise, they uncover hidden costs, agendas, preconceived notions all designed to stimulate discussion and create informed decision making.



(2) Too Far Ahead of the IT Curve? By: Glaser, John P., Halvorson, George C., Ford, Monte, Harvard Business Review, 00178012, Jul/Aug2007, Vol. 85, Issue 7/8

Expanding the business case to new approaches

26 Jan

When developing a strategy/framework for supporting business cases it is first important to separate the cases depending on their investment type. In their 2002 paper on the subject Ross and Beath note the extraordinary potential of IS/IT such as re-engineering processes, introducing online products, cost-cutting through automation of services and new approaches to customer segments. However with those seemingly limitless opportunities comes undue pressure on other aspects of the firm such as required capital, IT expertise, management focus and capacity for focus.

This brings me back to the crux of the Ross and Beath argument; that traditional business case models (that focus on traditional metrics such as return-on-investment against capabilities) are no longer sufficient.

Before IS cases can be further broken down, the management team must first decide what it is they are seeking, be it strategic objectives which highlight the trade-offs between short-term profitability and long-term growth or technology scope, which distinguishes between shared infrastructure and business solutions.

To decide this process the authors outline four types of investment:

1 Transformation

With the migration to new online applications and systems many firms find that they do not possess the necessary capability. Therefore Transformation Investments often involve a change in the core competencies which would otherwise hinder the long term success of the firm. Delta Airlines provide an example of this by tearing down their silo systems to create a new integrated one.

2 Renewal

This is more of an organic investment which occurs when the original transformation investment becomes redundant, therefore it is often less costly than transformation and deals in cases such as capacity expansion, maintainability and reducing support structures.

Process improvement   

Process improvement investments are less risky than other investments due to it focusing on operational outcomes of existing processes, process must build on existing IT infrastructure. So when Delta Airlines introduced their new online boarding system, management were expanding and simplifying technology that already existed.


Ross and Beath say “New technologies present companies with opportunities or imperatives to adopt new business models.” Successful experiment can result in in can in organizational process and capabilities and can lead to more experiments down the road. Stationary supplier Staples experimented with a switch from catalogue advertising to web-based, when this experiment was deemed a success extra intranet applications were added such as a web based helpdesk.

By first deciding which type of investment you want teams can develop a more comprehensive and justifiable IS business case with clear advantages to the firm.

Source: New Approaches to IT Investment. By: Ross, Jeanne W., Beath, Cynthia M., MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter2002, Vol. 43, Issue 2

The Necessity of Business Case’s.

18 Jan

In their 2004 paper Tiernan and Peppard outline that the drivers and beneficiaries of IT investment are often skewed, results poorly evaluated and blame wrongly apportioned, ultimately leading to project failure. They argue that once the business case has been approved the justifications and drivers of value are quickly forgotten about. The diagram below illustrates how the IT department can be wrongly apportioned blame for something they have no control over, often leading to accusations of the IT productivity paradox (Brynjolfsson, 1993), strategic misalignment among other things.


The Business case illustrates its importance by providing standards or as Tiernan and Peppard put it “There is a practice of creating elaborate plans to implement the technology while the reason for embarking on the process in the first place receives little or no planning”. Business cases can rectify this by clearly defining what a cost is and what an investment is or weather the investment should take place at all.

Crucially business cases leave a trail of accountability so, for instance if the sales manager underestimates the technical implementation of a project then he or she can be held accountable.

Business Cases can also immediately redefine budgets and forecasts. The inclusion of anticipated business benefits (through the business case) can also manage expectation and quieten accusations of a productivity paradox occurring. Thus a business case can be defined as a guide for management as to how to create value at various stages along the path to project completion. The need for business cases reminds me of the case made by Carr (2003) that IT itself is not an advantage; rather it is how it is utilised that creates the competitive advantage. Business Cases can help firms create this advantage.

Brynjolfsson, E. (1993) The productivity paradox of information technology: review and assessment. Communications of the ACM 36(12), 67–77.

Carr, N.G. (2003) IT doesn’t matter. Harvard Business Review (May), 41–49.

Tiernan and Peppard (2004) Information Technology: Of Value or a Vulture? European Management Journal Vol. 22, No. 6, pp. 609–623.

Does Maturity bring Alignment?

28 Nov

Hopefully by now you understand the importance of harmony between IT and business. If you don’t here is everything you need you know. I ve also mentioned in the past the importance of creating the right strategic fit for your company. As [Henderson and Venkatraman, 1999] illustrate functional integration is what separates business from IT.  Building on the work of ac04 in her work on how enables/inhibitors impact on alignment , I hope to expand on this by describing the strategic alignment maturity assessment method of [Luftman, 2000].

This method helps firms to judge where it stands on the road to alignment; it also flags potential opportunity for firms to tighten alignment. The method is really a model and this model has 6 areas of alignment. Each area is multi-faceted. The reason for 6 areas is as Luftman states because there “no single activity will enable a firm to attain and sustain alignment”.

Each unit is assessed by a team of business and IT executives and a score allocated from levels 1 to 5 with 5 being the worst.

The IT and business team must then agree on the firms current level. The conversation that ensues on how best to achieve alignment is extremely valuable to understand the firms current state of maturity and how best to improve it.

By recognizing what level of maturity the firm is at it can then gauge how best to reach the next level of maturity through outlining improvement areas. But arguably more importantly it provides a framework for IT/business managers to interact and discuss problems and potential improvements for the firm. The key for alignment is to get all six elements of the above diagram to work in harmony. This benchmarking approach is essentially a benchmarking process, that marries the twin dynamic worlds of business and IT.

Click to access IT-Business%20Alignment.pdf

Can Alignment hamper innovation?

26 Nov

Firms often cite research and development as the primary resource of the business. Innovation is of course a vital element of this however aligning your technology with that of the company is not always advantageous to the firm. The most recent example if this is Kodak, it developed digital camera technology in the 70’s however discarded it due to fears it would cannibalize its film and photograph development chains. Today Kodak has been overtaken by many of its rivals and now on the verge of bankruptcy.

Back in the I.T. field, Intel allows employees time each day, the use of company resources to spin out ideas, work with colleagues and generally invest time in their projects. These projects may not necessarily be aligned with firms goals and certainly counts as a misallocation of resources but is used as a key source of innovation, leveraging the knowledge of employees in a way that may not be aligned to company goals but may be of strategic benefit in the future. This use of I.T. has been adopted by other multinational companies like Google and Amazon. The downsides of one size fits all mentioned by d112221671 certainly applies here, employees are encouraged to think individually go in their own direction the antithesis of what alignment represents.

In many ways the relationship between IT and business can be viewed as a dysfunctional marriage. The couple are still married but they are sleeping in separate beds. Alignment seeks to push those beds together and rekindle the lost spark. However for firms (as opposed to relationships) this is not always a good thing after all most disruptive innovation occurs in decades old industries that feature the same old players (think the Dyson vacuum cleaner, the Apple i-pod irreversibly changing there industries). This blog refers not to technology but to the users who manipulate it, having employees focus on one singular aim can be dangerous and leaves firms open to be blind-sided by more progressive rivals. After all sometimes cultures, like relationships are best left broken.

For all things strategic and relationship advice follow Thestrategicblogger on twitter.

Outsourcing + Alignment = Conundrum

21 Nov

With a company of hundreds or thousands of employees, ensuring each department and branch is aligned with the larger corporate objectives is a daunting task. For myriad reasons already explained by d112221671 and ac04. Maintaining alignment between technical and business functions is very difficult to achieve. But when an organization adds a third party in the form of outsourcing the situation becomes even more complicated.

73% of firms say they outsource part of their I.T. application service, while 62% of respondents say they outsource infrastructure services, while it is only second to investment in cloud computing in terms of I.T. functions firms invest in. And with Gartner consulting agency reporting that IT outsourcing is set to reach $252 billion in 2012 the importance of achieving IT-business alignment in the business field cannot be overstated.

Ian Hayes of Clarity Consulting has stated there are 3 levels of engagement in which alignment can be achieved with the outsourcing firm. At the executive level the strategy underlying the outsourcing must continue to be the most viable option. At the next level the relationship with the vendor must be flexible and make economic sense. Next the scope of the functions outsourced must be relatable to the needs and wants of the company. And lastly, at the lowest level, “companies must ensure that the day-to-day performance of their outsourcing projects results in measurable, acceptable service to the end user community.”

Maintaining the alignment   

Often this will boil down to two characteristics: vigilance and flexibility. Vigilance on the part of the senior management to gauge where misalignment is occurring and tweak it so that the relationship with the outsourcing vendor is still a complementary one, whether changes in social or economic climates dictate a change in the outsourcer, outsourcee relationship. Flexibility on the side of the vendor to be able to respond positively to a change and a willingness to align it product with the wider corporate goals.

Hayes also points out tools for establishing and maintaining alignment.

  •  An executive steering committee to provide direction and strategy, and set overall priorities
  • Vendor meetings to negotiate and re-negotiate the scope of the project(s) and work on relationship issues
  • A Program Management Office to manage the day-to-day operations of the engagement
  • An IT Strategic Plan to define and clarity objectives for the outsourcer
  • A flexible master contract to enable rather than inhibit change
  • Operating principles to tell the participants how to perform their work on a practical basis
  • Statements of work to define the scope of the project(s) and assign responsibilities
  • Service level agreements to define acceptable levels of performance and performance goals
  • Customer satisfaction surveys to gauge how happy end users are with the outsourcer’s performance and serve as a double check on the service level agreements
  • Performance metrics to measure various facets of the outsourcer’s performance
  • Pay structures, incentives and penalties to motivate the parties to perform in the best interests of the outsourcing engagement.

Poor vendor relations, unrealistic expectation, projects that are too isolated from the business and poor performance are all cited as reasons for misalignments.

Establishing and maintaining alignment is a critical step to any successful outsourcing project. Misalignments will occur but planning and anticipation will ensure a smooth resolution. Vigilance is needed to spot any potential errors and flexibility needed to solve them.

Strategic fit for strategic alignment

16 Nov

The success of Strategic Alignment can be judged on the application of Information Technology in an appropriate and timely way in harmony with business, strategies and needs. Henderson and Venkatraman point out the evolving nature of I.T. can make it difficult to maintain strategic alignment ‘no single IT application [..] could deliver a sustained competitive advantage. Rather, this advantage is obtained through the capability of an organization to exploit IT functionality on a continuous basis’.  The “strategic fit” has been discussed at length by ac04 and pm1083, how I.T. can make a difference, functional integration, cross domain alignments are all essential elements.

But is there a framework that can help with this strategic fit?

Osterwalder puts forward the idea of introducing his business model canvas as a means of exploiting synergies and avoiding conflicts. A business model could help illuminate the I.T. – business relationship and consequently create better alignment.

I believe the above diagram asks all the questions a C.I.O must be answering when implementing an I.T. System such “What workflows does my system require and do we have the resources to provide it”, “What is the value to be gained from implementing such a system”. It combines Osterwalders business canvas with Jay Galbraiths Star model to show aspects of organisational design with the Business Canvas acting as a conduit between the different points in the star

Osterwalder suggests for a firm to be successful all five points on the star must be aligned. For I.T. alignment I believe there are three main headings to explain alignment: People, Process and Technology.

The people and process fall into the categories outlined above but what about technology? In the case of alignment I believe it is strategy after all surely the goal with technology is to maximise its potential and extract maximum value from it. I think the above diagram is also a neat summation of the challenges of achieving strategic alignment, by bringing into sharp focus the different obstacles that must be overcome to achieve true alignment.

Osterwalder also makes the point that the IT sector is a constantly evolving one and thus to keep it aligned with organizational goals so must the business model canvas. Previously I ve discussed how Kaplans balanced scorecard approach can be used as a tool to gauge the success of IT alignment within a firm which can be viewed here, in a similar vein this Osterwalder model is an implementation tool designed for overcoming the challenges of the “strategic fit” IT-business alignment.

Comments, suggestions and queries welcome.


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