How to Have Your Business Case Funded in a Bad Budget Year

By Phara McLachlan
June 19, 2019

With gloomy expectations for reduced IT budgets, the pressure during project review and budget approval, your business case must be compelling and relevant to receive attention. What. steps can you take to best demonstrate the value of that IT improvement business case?

First, avoid focusing solely on money savings. In a squeezed budget year, it would seem natural for IT managers to promote the direct and indirect savings that are expected from the project. Although outlining the savings is absolutely expected, focusing on that one goal may reduce your chances for approval and funding. Ask yourself how this project relates to corporate and CIO‐specific goals. How can you present the value of the project in relation to those goals? Unless you can answer this question and include it in your business case, it is unlikely that you will be funded.

Second, avoid stating benefits solely from an IT operational perspective. A business case that does not lay out the benefits to customers (internal and external) is unlikely to win the funding contest. Certainly, operational improvements will occur when the project is completed. Will the CIO be able to figure out the global value of risk reduction of loss or theft if you only explain the expected improvements in the life cycle process?

Stepping back from the heads‐down detailed view to analyze the global value can be the hardest part of preparing a business case. We cannot assume that our executives will take the time to figure out how this project relates to their ultimate goals. We have to do it ourselves.

To assure that your project receives a proper review and is compared at full value with other possible budget items, consider taking the following steps before hitting send on that business case:

1. Relate the project to how it will help the company grow.

Companies acquire, merge and divest often to increase profitability. While the deal on paper is good, the advantages gained can be lost in the execution of how assets are controlled and inventoried. Acquiring a company with inadequate software licenses, a pending audit or software licenses that are not transferable is a nightmare. Can the business case relate how these improvements prepare the organization for a major change? Can the documentation developed during the project be added to the due diligence team’s materials so that they can analyze a prospective acquisition accordingly?

2. Understand the CIO’s personal and corporate goals.

If the CIO is a heads down IT‐focused leader, then a business case built on savings from efficiency may still work. However, CIOs are less focused internally because operational goals do not lead to a seat on the executive team. The upwardly mobile CIO ties IT department activities to the corporate goals such as increasing profitability or customer satisfaction. A business case that presents upgrading to maintain technology is more likely to be funded if it is related to a corporate goal such as solving a specific business issue.

3. Always include service management.

The service management approach to IT operations is popular and is frequently reported in the media read by executives. If an IT project will help improve the execution of a service or the adoption of service management principles, then be sure to explicitly state how the change will lead to enhanced service management.

4. Relate projects to impending technology changes.

Sometimes a major project already underway is the most important aspect to mention in the business case. If the business case can be construed as competing against money already spent, you have already lost. However, if you can show how this project adds value to the ongoing project, you gain a perception advantage as well as champions who are invested in the success of the other project.

For example, the adoption of virtualized servers changes the relationship of server to cost center, eliminating one per application or department. What if an automation project business case lists as a benefit that that configurations and inventory will be easily tracked in a virtual environment? Surely the business case is much more likely to snag attention than if it focused on the goal of improving control of the asset inventory.

5. Uncover “found money.”

A business case must always talk about the cost versus benefit to be considered at all. In many cases, IT projects can offer a reasonable expectation of savings based on expenditures that will not occur, enabling bulk purchasing, or freeing up resources through automation. Make sure that the savings are real and measurable. Sampling is a reasonable method for gauging the potential savings. Other sources of information to back up predicted savings can come from research on the internet, analysts or even your vendors, eager to help you receive funding.

By stepping away from the detail and relating the project to external influences, the project is more likely to be understood and weighed appropriately against other initiatives.