Book Review: Demystifying Business Cases for Information Technology, GIS and More

By Joe Francica

Sometimes you are the victim of your own success. You began your career as a GIS analyst, perhaps working for a local government or private utility but have since been promoted to GIS manager. As your first task, the city manager or the vice president of operations asks you to create a business plan for the expansion of the GIS system. Now what? You’ve never written a business plan or know the first thing about return on investment (ROI). But, you are in luck.
In a concise, easy-to-read format, Greg Duffy provides a step-by-step formula for crafting a business plan keeping all of the salient details within just 132 pages.  In Demystifying Business Cases for Information Technology, GIS and More, Duffy takes the novice manager (or even the experienced VP) through his recommended nine-step process for developing the right “story” that will be appreciated by even the most skeptical financial analyst. 
Sprinkled throughout the book are key “Tips” that explain terminology and process and the “Take Note” call-outs that provide mini-homework suggestions for the reader. One example of a tip can be found in this explanation of passive versus active investments: “Financial investments in stock markets … that generate profits and ROI are passive while GIS … and other I&T (information and technology) investments that build capability and capacity are active. This is a major distinction.”
But the most helpful snippets of information are contained in sections of the book called the “Geo-IDEA [IDEA stands for Innovative, Distinctive, Effective and Accelerative].” Duffy is a 25-year GIS veteran and understands the complexities of convincing those who are not familiar with geospatial technology about what needs to be explained and how. For example, one Geo-IDEA specifically calls out “geocoding” and goes on to explain that “the investment in geocoding vast amounts of corporate location based data about assets, transactions, revenues, stores, consumer clusters adds tremendously valuable  insight/knowledge (capability) and when these data are accessible they add valuable decision inputs that improve processes (capacity).” 
This book is a useful companion to the GIS professional walking into the board room who needs to be armed with the right way to explain functions he or she takes for granted. This type of geo-insight provides the GIS manager the terminology with which to express the business case to those decision makers who don’t live and breathe location technology. Duffy, therefore, can help translate the somewhat convoluted terms of GIS into those more commonly used in the language of business.
RVI: Returns, Values and Impacts
Duffy provides a model for managers to follow that he believes is quite specific to I&T projects in what he calls Returns, Values and Impacts. In the book, Returns relate to financial or monetary components; Values refer to the corporation’s capacity and capabilities; Impacts pertain to how the project will affect clients, prospects and employees. Again, the book is presented as a guide to support the claims of the manager who is tasked with presenting the project’s benefits. As another “Tip” suggests, “The author of the business case is responsible for getting the approvers to understand … before one can ever hope to get them to approve.”
One very clear message of the book is to help the manager to understand that the business case is a “story” and to tell it effectively, he must build a case that contains all the elements to communicate results. For this, the book provides nine steps, from the “Elevator Pitch” to “Project Outline.” But Duffy is quick to point out that not all of the steps are sequential. Managers have to first understand the “current situation” before even thinking about the elevator pitch that she will make to management.
Duffy first summarizes these nine steps and then later in the book goes into more detail educating the reader along the way with additional financial terminology and definitions. Those who hold MBAs will appreciate the refresher course on Net Present Value (NPV), Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and the ever-popular “Time Value of Money.” The book cautions, however, on solely relying on financial metrics to validate a business case and states, for example, “ROI is a financial measure and does not provide information about the efficiency or effectiveness of information systems.” As such, Duffy makes certain that managers articulate the financial analysis of hard and soft costs, but also understand that the numbers are there to “support the written story, not the other way around.”
Finally, the book walks the reader through the steps in creating the plan, bullet point by bullet point. There’s not much guesswork for the reader. This book helps you craft both the words and the spreadsheet. It’s the GIS manager’s best companion for all current and future projects.
Editors’ Note: Duffy’s book is available in paperback on Amazon through his website,, and worldwide on Amazon (paperback and Kindle versions).

Published Monday, September 9th, 2013

Written by Joe Francica

Published in


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