An opportunity to make a business case can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s an indication that the project is taken seriously. On the other hand, it formalizes the intentions, emphasizes responsibility, and implies approval by multiple stakeholders (smell internal politics, anyone?). Writing a good business case requires a pragmatic approach, strategic thinking, and persuasive language. Done well, it can convince the top management to invest in your project. Done poorly, it can cause delays or even stall the project entirely.
Web CMS implementations take time and cost money. The purpose of the business case is to justify the investment and to prove that you have reasonable chances of success. So how can you write an effective business case for a web CMS that helps the decision makers to recognize the value of the new platform?
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Before you start working on the business case, think about your audience. Whom are you writing it for? What language do they speak? What metrics do they use? What’s their major pain? What’s the most exciting opportunity? What’s at the top of their list in terms of priorities?
A common mistake is to assume that the thorough approach required for a formal business case is all about the subject matter (in our case, WCM). It isn’t. The business case should emphasize the impact that the new web CMS has on the business, not the complexity of the software and its features.
STRATEGIC CONTEXT AND THE NEED FOR CHANGE
A good business case addresses a genuine business need, pain, or risk. Two decades ago, most business cases for web CMSs focused on efficiencies and resolved the pain associated with maintaining the increasing volumes of content. Today, the majority of the web CMS business cases focus on the business need, such as sales targets or customer engagement goals. A link to a strategically important business need provides the urgency that puts your business case at the top of the pile. A new web CMS might be useful and important, but why should the organization invest in it now?
OPTIONS AND THE RECOMMENDED SOLUTION
If a selection process has already taken place, recommend the web CMS platform that was chosen and briefly outline the reasons why. When recommending a solution, remember to include the implementation costs and timescales. However, recommending a specific web CMS platform in the business case is not always possible. In a large organization, a typical web CMS selection process includes requirements gathering, stakeholder interviews, an RFP, and vendor demonstrations. With so many web CMS platforms available, the selection process requires a significant investment of time. If you haven’t had an opportunity to conduct a thorough selection process, offer an estimate based on the current understanding of the situation. An obvious alternative to your recommended course of action is doing nothing. If no action is taken, what will happen? What impact on the business will this have? What opportunities will be lost? Think about this carefully. The stronger your argument, the more likely your business case will be given the priority it deserves.
HARD AND SOFT BENEFITS
When articulating the anticipated outcome of the project, consider describing it in terms of hard and soft benefits. Hard benefits are specific and measurable. For example, a 10% increase in online sales or a 10% reduction in headcount are hard benefits.
Soft benefits don’t have the obvious impact on the bottom line. Improved staff morale or improved customer experience are important outcomes, but their impact on the business is more difficult to quantify.
For many web CMS initiatives, estimating hard benefits is, well, hard. Replacing an existing web CMS with a better solution is similar to moving to a new house. If done for the right reasons, the benefits are there, but assigning a monetary value to it doesn’t always make sense. Things such as happiness, a less stressful commute, and better opportunities to exercise and make friends will likely lead to a better lifestyle, but the precise impact of these benefits is difficult to measure. Similarly, a new web CMS platform can improve customer experience and team morale, but the resulting increase in revenue or specific cost-savings are not easy to estimate.
If most of the benefits for your web CMS project are soft, you might want to drop the hard and soft benefits labels altogether. Instead, categorize benefits by high-impact, medium-impact, and low-impact, as determined by their alignment to the strategic goals.
The problem with creating a credible ROI for a web CMS project is that the ROI calculations are only as good as the assumptions that underpin them, and implementing new technology is riddled with unknowns. Vendor demonstrations and proof of concept bring us closer to understanding whether the system is a good fit for the organization’s requirements, but it doesn’t accurately reflect the full complexity and scale of the project. One more, or one less, skilled content editor required for the duration of the web CMS implementation can swing the cost estimates by as much as $50,000.
If an ROI is seen as an important part of the business case in your organization, your best bet is to discuss the format of the ROI calculations with the person who will be evaluating it, usually a financial director. Ask what metrics and what terminology should be used and how the calculations are made. This will bring you closer to speaking the same language as your decision maker. Refer to specific and reputable sources when estimating your costs. For example, get a quote from an independent consultant, industry analyst, or an agency with significant experience in web CMS implementations.
RISKS AND DEPENDENCIES
For a certain period of time during the web CMS implementation, there will be two systems running: the old (with the up-to-date content) and the new (partway through content migration). Therefore, the timing of the web CMS implementation shouldn’t coincide with significant content updates, product launches, or mergers. Other risks might include the ability to deliver change management, overcoming organizational challenges, reallocating and training staffers, and elevating the quality of content.
You could argue that facts are facts, and when it comes to writing a business case, communication style shouldn’t come into it. But things that are not communicated well can be poorly understood and not given the attention they deserve. Persuasive language is specific, factual, and clear. It has many voices: Use quotes and research findings from thought leaders and experts in the field to support your message. Spend time cutting out information that doesn’t help to make a decision. Making a business case is similar to predicting the future—you can’t always be accurate, but you can be specific and clear.