Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where’s the BI Value Proposition?

I can remember a time when the pitch for BI could (almost) be made along the lines of reducing headcount – “put in this reporting solution and you’ll no longer need the team of people who currently spend all of their time compiling numbers in spreadsheets for others in the business to use”. Even when BI cost a mint this scenario still offered an organization the chance to come out in front financially. These days things aren’t so simple. Despite decreasing costs for BI the sales pitch is probably harder today than it was a decade ago. And I’m not just talking about vendors and consulting companies selling BI products and services into their prospects. I’m also talking about selling the value of BI inside companies – making the case for a BI initiative to internal funding boards is getting tougher and tougher with shrinking budgets and competition from other projects and programs.

To have the best chance of success the value proposition needs to be clear.  Often now BI projects will be seen as providing productivity support. They won’t save headcount but they may free up some percentage of time for resources throughout the company or help those within the organization make faster and / or better decisions. Proposing cost savings based upon these time savings is a dangerous endeavor. Such savings may not be viewed as real given fixed wage and salary costs or, perhaps worse still, the department may simply have next year’s budget cut by that amount to ensure the proposed benefit is locked in for realization.

Coming up with the appropriate value proposition may need you to stand back and honestly examine what’s within the scope of the proposed BI program. Is it just static reporting or are you largely replacing existing reports like for like due to a burning platform? If so then perhaps it’s time to swallow your pride and pitch the program like an infrastructure project. Chances are your client or your internal funding board looks at the criteria for assessing these types of projects differently than others, recognizing that they are unlikely to deliver strategic value, cost savings or drive top line growth, but rather just have to be done to sustain the business as usual state – to keep the lights on, if you will.

If your proposed initiative is broader and can be aligned to more tangible business objectives then you have a number of things you should be mindful of when building the BI value proposition:

·      Value is a subjective thing. Look at the perceived value of the initiative at different levels of the organization. Do they all see the value, or does your push to realize enterprise value actually make things harder for one or more departments? If you can find win-win scenarios or at least avoid win-lose scenarios then it will be easier to get agreement on the value.

·      Can you show how the value can be measured over time (and is it actually going to be possible to measure this value)? Financials are just one aspect of this. Speed of decision making, greater visibility and transparency and reduced risk might be things to consider. What ever you decide to include make sure that you can measure and articulate the current state. Not only will it give you a benchmark to measure against but you’ll also have concrete examples of the issues you are trying to solve, rather than just pitching the value of the initiative based around academic or theoretical concerns or problems that have manifested in other industries.

·      Is all of the value expected to be realized in a short to medium timeframe? Chances are this isn’t the case, especially if the project involves analytics or data mining. There likely to be a perceived drop in value whilst the design and implement stages are underway and the business resources are having to participate in workshops, field questions and test while holding down their day jobs. The perceived value is likely to spike once the initiative goes live as the low hanging fruit are harvested but chances are the perceived value will again dip as the business gets more complex and costly due to changed and changing processes, new ways of working and information overload. The real value pay-off may well not come until this stage passes and this state of anxiety and uncertainty can be resolved by working with the business to work with these new learnings and new information to further enhance the analytics and any new or changed processes to again simplify the way people work. Expect this, plan for it and build it into your value proposition. If this pushes the benefits realization out too far to the right then look for ways of chunking the program down into smaller tactical projects all building toward the strategic end game. Show the early value and paint the alignment with the strategic aims and the later value that will be realized.

And of course if you’re coming from the IT side of the fence don’t forget to work with the business through all of this. Not only are you likely to have covered off more stakeholders prior to the pitch, but chances are you’ll reap a higher value from the finished product as well.

Oh, and if you’re from the business side, bring the IT guys in on things too!! Involving them early will lead to higher longer term value.

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