4 Steps to an Effective Enterprise Information Management Business Case
The most interesting trend I saw last year from the perspective of our content technologies consulting practice was the increase in clients asking us -- rather than vice versa -- to provide them with an enterprise information management (EIM) strategy (rather than an enterprise content management, records management, content management, business process management, e-discovery, mobile, social content, or any combination therein strategy). Two things surprised me about this trend.

The first was that organizations -- particularly in manufacturing and financial services -- were beginning to actively plan for such a change rather than lurch their way into it. The second was that their conception of EIM was more comprehensive than the usual definitions. The EIM strategy they want includes not only structured data (as clearly described here) -- but also social content, mobility, off premises delivery and information governance over the whole thing. EIM is the new stable “container category” describing what most folks are trying to do.

We’re seeing more openness to strategic content technology initiatives than we did during the brutal years following 2009, but it’s still imperative to demonstrate solid ROI for any IT initiative, particularly EIM. This is particularly true if your EIM initiative includes social content -- with such real but soft benefits as “employee engagement.”

I calculate ROI a few different ways in almost every project I do – in order to decide among a number of possible courses of action. Then our clients often use the same methods to rank their EIM options relative to other requests for IT spend. So being able to develop and present a solid business case is critical not only to making good decisions -- it’s also critical to packaging the message so that the impact of the EIM initiatives you propose will be clear to executive management.

This article presents the fundamentals for providing an effective business case, particularly:

  1. The types of EIM initiatives you should assess
  2. The types of EIM benefits you should go after
  3. The types of business case you should develop
  4. The types of data you should use in your business case

I then pull it all together and outline the methodology -- the sequence of steps you should take in order to create the business case.

1. Types of Initiatives

First, distinguish between targeted and infrastructure initiatives.

Targeted initiatives are EIM projects designed to address specific business problems or areas of EIM functionality. Infrastructure initiatives are projects that affect the entire enterprise.

The significance of the demarcation that contrasts targeted initiatives -- whether industry-specific or cross-industry -- with infrastructure-related initiatives, is that the sources of funding tend to be different. An organization’s stage of maturity within the EIM lifecycle at a given point in time may dictate which approach you should take.

When putting together a business case, you should consider your approach based on the organizational culture, the appetite for spend, the maturity level of EIM, and the enterprise’s overall familiarity with the potential value that EIM can bring. While an infrastructure investment makes a lot of sense in certain instances, other organizations find a targeted initiative a more favorable approach, given their funding constraints. In still other organizations, proving out targeted value might be the first step toward justification of infrastructure-related spend for EIM.

2. Types of Benefits

Ask yourself: Which types of benefits align most closely with my organization’s corporate business goals?

These are the benefits that are most likely to get the attention of executive management. Evaluate your proposed initiatives by how well they fit your organization’s business priorities, and prioritize and present them accordingly. Here’s a partial list:

  • Revenue lift: Benefits that help the organization increase revenues. (Example: customer communications technologies that integrate with line of business systems, allowing for cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers.)
  • Risk mitigation/compliance: Benefits that improve the organization's ability to reduce corporate risk or facilitate its ability to comply with regulations (Example: records management technologies that make it easier to manage discovery-related information in the event of litigation.)
  • Cost reduction: Benefits that decrease the hard dollar costs of business processes (Example: imaging and e-forms technologies to reduce the amount of paper in business processes.) 
  • Business continuity: Benefits that improve the organization's ability to ensure that mission-critical functions and services can continue uninterrupted during and after a disaster. (Example: imaging technologies and mirroring of repositories to ensure up-to-date copies of business-critical documentation and data are maintained in geographically dispersed locations.)

3. Types of Business Case

Next, consider the various types of business cases.

There are different circumstances in which each type of business case is appropriate. Your approach may be one or a combination of the models. Your goal here is to create defensible scenarios to demonstrate how your proposed initiative will provide quantifiable ROI, not just an enumeration of the soft benefits.

  • Top-down: A top-down business case is typically an organization-wide business case that highlights macro-level EIM benefits at an enterprise level. These tend to be credible only for hourly wage/variable capacity types of workers, where capacity planning can be directly affected with even minor efficiency gains. (Example: Making information more easily accessible to customer service reps in call centers throughout the organization, thereby reducing time required to service calls.)
  • Bottom-up: This is generally a more credible and more successful approach. It tends to be more precise for knowledge workers and also works rather well on the process worker-related activities and tasks, where certain patterns tend to recur in many areas. Not only can a particular line of business benefit from a process-level drilldown, but those same EIM usage patterns can be applied to other processes with similar characteristics. (Example: New Account Origination optimization through imaging, e-forms and workflow, which presents usage patterns similar to Retail Mortgage Processing.)
  • Reallocative: This class of business case focuses on reducing costs from one area and allocating the savings to another area. (Example: Suppressing print for customer communications and reallocating those savings for modernizing the personalization platform for electronic customer communications.)
  • Retrospective: The retrospective business case focuses on analysis of a particular event or scenario and demonstrates how the outcome would have been different if EIM technology were in place. (Example: an instance of litigation discovery, showing the actual costs of the discovery event and the cost reductions with EIM technologies in place.)
  • Embedded: This class of business case focuses on demonstrating the ability of EIM to enable an existing and already funded initiative, where EIM acts as an enabler for the in-flight effort. (Example: Using the document management and records management capability sets of EIM to enable archiving for an ERP initiative that is already funded and underway.)
  • Reformative: The reformative business case highlights the structural, business model-related or highly strategic changes that require aspects of EIM in the critical path. (Example: A business model, such as outsourcing, that the organization seeks to pursue, where EIM technologies such as digitization and process automation are prerequisites for undertaking a distributed sourcing environment.)

4. What Types of Data Should You Use?

Use your own internal data if you can get it.

The basis of a credible business case is relevant, organization-specific data on the costs, volumes and other metrics around your current business processes.

Also use industry benchmark data. Many organizations don’t compile these metrics. The data simply doesn’t exist. And even if it does exist, you might not have a relative comparison of the severity of the issue. We recommend using a hybrid approach to data that uses not only internal organizational data, but also industry benchmark data, and compares the two.

Creating the Business Case

When you put the above pieces together into a process that you can actually execute and end up with a convincing business case, it looks something like this:

  1. Define the Criteria: Ask: which benefit type(s) align most closely with my organization’s corporate business goals? These are the benefits that are most likely to get the attention of executive management, whether they are one, or a ranked combination of, revenue lift, risk mitigation/ compliance, cost reduction, business continuity or something else.
  2. Prioritize the Processes: Evaluate the most promising of your existing business processes for potential benefit from EIM. Assess the potential impact of EIM on each business process and rank those processes, using your defined evaluation criteria. Evaluate your proposed initiatives by how well they fit your organization’s business priorities, then rank and present them accordingly.
  3. Depict the Current State: Create a view of the current process, applying current state metrics and facts. Include data specific to your organization (costs, volumes). Supplement with industry benchmark data in areas where your own data is incomplete. Where possible, also include an analytic/heuristic model that shows how other organizations in your industry approach the process.
  4. Project the Future State: Develop a view of the desired future state with estimates of the improvements enabled by the deployment of EIM technologies. Use industry benchmark data to project the costs of the future state.
  5. Quantify the Benefits: For each process, aggregate and analyze the hard and soft benefits in terms of your chosen criteria (revenue lift, risk mitigation/ compliance, cost reduction, business continuity).
  6. Communicate and Socialize: Don’t blow it after doing all the work. This is the step where you get or lose executive buy-in. Develop an effective communications model and socialize it with the executive team. If possible, create an interactive visualization of the business case to communicate the business case graphically, in a succinct, easily understood format. Make it “elegant, efficient, and accurate”, the criteria for great infographics.

The most critical piece of the business case is calculating an ROI and then communicating it to executives in sophisticated yet easy to understand visual and interactive models. A business case should always be able to present “what-if” analysis, showing causes and effects resulting from changes in assumptions. The business case should be simple enough to review in a few minutes with an executive audience, but still display the robustness of the analysis.

Title image by Darren Liby (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Hungry for more of Richard's insights? Read How to Get from 1998 Style Records Management to Information Governance for 2018