For many Human Services organizations, the ROI of technology is indisputable. Yet some organizations have been stung by very memorable IT project failures, and these failures stick in the minds of the people who write the checks. As a result, the level of trust in software can be low, and this lack of trust (combined with growing economic pressures and scrutiny from boards) has caused business leaders to become highly skeptical when it comes to spending big bucks on IT projects (“the last time we gave you money, you blew it!”).
What’s the antidote to budget-holder skepticism? A rigorous and compelling business case that clearly articulates the benefits in business terms – and sets out how and when the project will be executed to deliver these benefits and avoid the associated risks.
The key to success is presenting your technology investment as a business investment, e.g. how spending money on this software project will pay dividends in terms of cost savings, productivity increases, and quality improvements; some tangible and measurable, some less tangible and less easy to quantify.
The business case is the stage where most technology projects stumble, so proper planning is essential. By applying project management principles and having a a defined process, your organization can be successful in securing the proper funding to update existing technology and bring significant value and efficiency to your organization. To create a solid business case for your technology investment, here are the 6 steps you should follow:
1. IDENTIFY THE NEED AND DESCRIBE THE BUSINESS CHALLENGE
The first step in building a business case is to precisely determine the current business challenges that will be addressed or fixed by the investment. Describe the aspects of the business environment that are currently driving the need for the project, including why the problem exists; human, process, or technology issues that are creating the problem; the impact of the problem on the business; and the timeframe in which the problem must be resolved.
Common challenges that cause companies to consider new technology solutions include:
- Desire to Grow the Organization: Many organizations want to grow either organically or through acquisition, however their existing processes or business applications may be unable to adequately manage a larger operation. For example, their existing accounting software may be unable to support the addition of new programs, or they may need more robust functionality, such as sophisticated reporting and business analytics, scheduling, or payroll capabilities.
- Inefficient Business Processes: Many older solutions cause organizations to experience business processes that are time-consuming, inefficient, error-prone, and manual. For example, employees may have to manually extract information from spreadsheets to create reports, re-enter budgets, program or grant information into multiple silo’d applications, or consolidate data manually so it can be re-entered into the system from paper requisitions or timesheets.
- A Need to Reduce Costs: During difficult or uncertain economic conditions, many organizations look to reduce their operating costs. Implementing a new solution would give them the ability to automate manual business processes which, in turn, will allow staff to focus on more strategic tasks.
- Obsolete Systems: Many organizations consider a new solution because they are operating on systems that are no longer supported, which in itself can create great risk and bring up unknown costs. These organizations will need to move to a new system in order to obtain modern functionality and upgrades, and receive ongoing support.
2. ASSESS THE BENEFITS OF DIFFERENT SOLUTION OPTIONS
Replacing an obsolete system with a modern one can give organizations the tools they need to address their business challenges while reducing costs and achieving a wide range of benefits. The following are the types of benefits organizations can expect to achieve by implementing a new system. When evaluating different options, organizations should consider how well each solution delivers these benefits.
- Grow the Business: Moving to a comprehensive, integrated solution can give human service organizations the functionality they need to manage larger, more sophisticated operations and provide greater services to their clients. The right system will enable them to increase their use of the system as their needs evolve by deploying all or part of the functional modules, one step at a time, without having to start a new project from scratch. Alternatively, they can implement the solution in a single location and for a limited number of users first and then progressively connect new users, either locally or remotely. With such a solution, organizations can effectively manage their growth while minimizing additional costs.
- Improve Efficiency: The right solution can improve efficiency by enabling integration, automation, improved decision making, and better collaboration:
- Integration Provides Coherent Business Information and Data Integrity: The right solution should be able to integrate all management processes into a single, coherent information system, and distribute information in real-time throughout the company wherever it is needed. By sharing data throughout the system, the solution eliminates the need for manual data re-entry, which improves productivity, eliminates lost time, reduces errors, and provides reliable, coherent data.
- Automation Eliminates Manual Processes: Many technology solutions can automate business processes while providing alerts for exceptions to allow staff to focus on unusual events. Greater automation means organizations can either reduce staffing levels (costs) or redeploy staff to other activities (e.g., do more with less).
- Business Intelligence Improves Reporting, Decision Making, and Efficiency: A system that includes Business Intelligence (BI) tools and integrated information offers easy and efficient reporting capabilities also allows employees to make better, faster, data-driven decisions. Companies can also use BI tools to analyze their own business processes to further improve process efficiency.
3. ASSESS COSTS OF SOLUTION OPTIONS
Next, determine the total cost of ownership (TCO) for the various options under consideration. Typical costs for an implementation include:
- Acquisition: Consider the cost of the solution. There are options to consider a cloud system where you pay a predictable annual fee every year, or an on-premise solution (that can also be hosted in the cloud), but is a one-time fee.
- Cost of Expanding the Solution: Is the solution comprehensive or does it require upgrades to obtain more than entry-level functionality? Look for a solution that includes best-of-class features and a complete range of modules that can be used throughout the organization, such as accounting and financial management, budgeting, purchasing, scheduling, and case management. The solutions should also be easily scalable to accommodate an increasing number of users as needed.
- Extensive Training Resources: Does the solution you’re considering offer a wealth of training resource to help get your team up and running quickly. Things such as videos, how-to guides, and webinars allow users to learn at their own pace and easily access the information they need to utilize the solution to its full potential.
- User-Friendly Interface: Intuitive navigation will help reduce training costs and get users onto the system faster. Look for a graphical, process-oriented user interface, a common look-and-feel throughout the system, and sound ergonomics that streamline and simplify work processes by providing a clear view of the tasks to accomplish and steps required.
- Implementation: To minimize implementation costs and deliver ROI faster, look for configurable software that adapts to the enterprise without requiring custom development and months of professional services.
- Upgrades: Today, systems should provide a path to automated updates with minimal impact and cost to a nonprofit.
4. ASSESS THE RISKS AND ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH IMPLEMENTATION
Next, assess the risks or issues that might arise during the implementation. Potential risks and issues to consider include:
- Operational Risks: Some operational risks to consider include low user adoption due to software that is complicated to use, or low reliability/continuity of operations. These risks can be mitigated with a reliable solution that is intuitive, easy to navigate, and comes with a wealth of training resources.
- IT Risks: Look for a way to deploy a new solution that gives you minimal IT impact – cloud solutions will reduce the burden on your IT staff.
5. RECOMMEND THE PREFERRED SOLUTION AND DESCRIBE THE IMPLEMENTATION APPROACH
Once an organization determines the benefits and costs for each potential solution, it can recommend a preferred solution and begin outlining the implementation approach to give sponsors confidence that the implementation has been well thought through. When looking to a vendor’s professional services arm or systems integration partner to help with the implementation, consider factors such as:
- The vendor’s skills and knowledge of delivering solutions for your particular industry
- The longevity and experience of the business providing the service
- Use of an implementation methodology that tracks a critical path for all the steps that must occur
- How well they document the implementation process, milestones, and deliverables
By following this process, organizations will have the tools they need to precisely measure the value of any technology investment to their operation and present a solid business case that proves the value of the solution on the organization’s operational efficiencies.
Need help with proposing your plans and ideas to funders and board members? Download our free Funding Proposal Guide to learn how to clearly communicate all the details and information surrounding your project proposal.