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August 20, 2014

8 steps to a compelling business case for social initiatives

Analyst firm Gartner has developed an eight-step process built on the Gartner Business Value Model (GBVM).

By Duncan Macrae

IT leaders planning to introduce or extend a collaboration and social software initiative may well need a more compelling business case to present to business leaders, according to analyst firm Gartner.

Nikos Drakos, research VP at Gartner, said: "As collaboration and social software initiatives are becoming more costly, complex and risky, IT leaders can’t treat them as basic infrastructure rollouts, or simply assume they will benefit the business.

"They must make a clear business case, setting out the expected costs and business benefits in an appropriate level of detail."

Collaboration per se should not be the objective, he added. The goal should be improved business outcomes. While launching a collaboration and social software initiative should improve collaboration in an organisation, it does not automatically lead to improved business outcomes.

Drakos said: "Despite the compelling reasons for quantifying the business impact of a collaboration and social software initiative, don’t assume that it’s always necessary or appropriate to devise a detailed financial business case. In fact, most organisations don’t do this for such initiatives and, in some cases, a less detailed business case is more appropriate."

For initiatives that do require a detailed financial case, Gartner has developed an eight-step process built on the Gartner Business Value Model (GBVM). The GBVM identifies the most frequently used business performance indicators and links them directly to financial outcomes.

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Step 1: Identify Stakeholders, Define Responsibilities and Agree Processes

Collaboration with stakeholders from business and finance units will continue throughout the initiative, and each stakeholder will perform different tasks. As social software initiatives don’t always start in the IT organisation, the initial driver for the initiative may come from another area of the business. At this stage, the IT leader and other stakeholders should formulate the initiative’s overall strategic vision and objectives, and link these to other strategic business objectives, such as those in the organisation’s annual report or in vision statements created by the CEO or other board members.

Step 2: Select Metrics That Link the Initiative to Relevant Business Areas

The challenge in this part of the process is to align the objectives typically associated with a collaboration and social software initiative — such as improving internal communications, enhancing teamwork and improving knowledge capture and reuse – with relevant business areas and business performance metrics from the GBVM. Existing metrics can be used if an organisation already measures similar business metrics to those in the GBVM, or new ones can be introduced if none of the metrics in the value model are appropriate.

Step 3: Measure Current Performance to Establish a Baseline

Once the business metrics have been selected, the business stakeholders must measure current performance levels, before the initiative starts. Gartner recommends that they use the average performance for each metric over the past 12 months as a baseline from which to measure expected improvements. If no relevant data exists to establish a baseline for each metric, the business stakeholders could monitor and measure existing activities to establish one.

Step 4: Describe How Solution Capabilities Are Likely to Affect Metrics

The IT leader needs to describe how the new initiative will deliver measurable business outcomes. This description should include comments about the relationship between people and processes, as well as technology. It should form the basis of a deeper understanding of the interplay between people, process and technology in the proposed solution and in the context of a specific business activity.

Step 5: Negotiate Realistic Targets for Improved Business Outcomes

Having established metrics, current baselines and causal-chain descriptions, the next step is to agree with the business stakeholders realistic expectations for improvements to each metric as a result of implementing the proposed solution.

Step 6: Estimate the Financial Impact of Planned Improvements

The finance stakeholder must work out what the agreed targeted improvements will mean in financial terms using predefined formulas that link metrics to financial performance.

Step 7: Determine the Total Cost of Ownership

The total cost of ownership (TCO) can be calculated by adding up all the direct and indirect costs of the collaboration and social software initiative. These include costs relating to software licenses and maintenance, personnel costs, service costs and operational costs over the useful lifetime of the initiative.

Step 8: Calculate ROI

The finance stakeholder should calculate the initiative’s ROI based on the previously calculated financial impact of the negotiated improvements and on the TCO calculations.

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