How to Make the Case for IT Investment

By Lauren Gibbons Paul
Sun, February 01, 2004

CIO — Which would you rather do: prepare a business case for your latest project or sit for a root canal? No surprise if you chose the latter; most CIOs hate everything about business cases?the politics and the mystifying financial lingo. But these days, the ability to put together a compelling business case is a core competency for CIOs.

A strong business case is critical for effective IT governance, and having one is more important than ever with the increased scrutiny on corporate decision making. "There’s real urgency to get this right. Decision making is much more visible than it used to be," says Jack Keen, president and cofounder of IT consultancy The Deciding Factor, coauthor of Making Technology Investments Profitable and a CIO columnist. "CIOs have an unusual opportunity to come to the rescue in terms of defining the business value of IT."

That opportunity is key, since many CIOs are finding their credibility is at an ebb. If you can’t demonstrate technology’s worth to your organization, you risk losing your spot in the boardroom. The good news: CIOs who succeed at building solid business cases attain greater visibility. It is undeniably positive for your career to lead a successful project backed by a sound business case and with proven benefits. How do you know if your business case skills need improvement? If you’ve been turned down on any of the major projects you proposed in the past year, chances are you haven’t done your homework. By adhering to the five essential rules that follow, you can sell your project as a winning initiative.

1. Know Your Company’s Needs

Before you start to build a business case, you need to obtain some financial information about your company. For instance, most companies have a hurdle rate, or the rate of return required by the organization to fund a project. "If a project has been diligently reviewed and can achieve a 12 percent or 13 percent or better rate of return, then it’s in the best interests of our shareholders to pursue," says Doug Horton, vice president and director of strategic technology initiatives for $2.6 billion LandAmerica Financial Group, a title insurance company.

Hurdle rates don’t change much in the short term. Except in the case of a technical infrastructure investment (such as a network upgrade), you’re going to have to prove you can meet this threshold or there’s no point in continuing.

Sometimes IT leaders make the mistake of believing the corporate hurdle rate does not apply to IT projects. Or they assume there isn’t one. "In many cases, people don’t even bother to find out what the hurdle rates are," says Keen.

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