The KM Business Case: 50,000 Foot View

February 28, 2007 at 2:47 pm | Posted in business case, knowledge management | Leave a comment

I’ve been an analyst since 1998, focusing most of that time on various knowledge management technologies like portal, web content management, and intranets.  One client inquiry that has been consistent over time and between technologies is the need to prove value for knowledge infrastructure.  Sometimes this takes the form of financial analysis (ROI, NPV, time to payoff), and sometimes it is around metrics (how can I show improvement or prove in a year or two that it was worthwhile).

Overall, there are two reasons owners of collaboration infrastructure start work on a business case: because they have to and because they know it’s good for them. There’s an inbetween option which is that it behooves them to do it now because there’s a good chance they’ll be asked for it in the future. Even if not explicitly asked for, a business case should be an integral part of any collaboration plan or strategy to validate that the technology is aligned with business goals and objectives.

The journey is the destination when it comes to business cases. When the business case creation process is seen as valuable on its own rather than just a hurdle to get past to start work it can be used to steer the direction of the project and form the basis for an ongoing dialogue with the business.

At a high level, the business case for technologies that fit under the KM umbrella are very similar (portal, web content management, attention management, intranets, collaboration, search, etc.). Note that I will not distinguish between the business case and a business justification. The differences are very minor and lead to the same steps in my experience.

I’ve talked to 100+ organizations about their business cases over the past 7 years, worked in detail on a few, have read through many case studies, and have seen many different approaches that worked at different companies. It’s all about 1) starting with a worthy project, 2) understanding the situation – the why, what, and how, 3) building the business case by selecting the most useful methods out of the many available for the specific situation and the line items to apply those methods on, 4) presenting the business case (in multiple formats), 5) keeping the business case in mind while executing the initiative, and 6) following up once the initiative is in place.

That represents my high level view of this issue. I’ll post more thoughts in an ongoing fashion. I’ll focus on #2 since I think that’s where most of the misunderstandings occur and business case production often goes astray.

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