Packing the GIS Business Case for the Board Room

By Ross Smith and Neil Saward

GIS technology is not new and the opportunities for leveraging it for business benefit are typically well understood, at least by GIS professionals and vendors.Despite this, we have found that one of the main impediments to effective GIS implementation - and the realization of the benefits expected - is the lack of executive commitment necessary for the multi-year, multi-million dollar investment.

Why is it so difficult to sell the benefits that GIS can bring to executives? Have you found that no matter how much you evangelize about the operational improvements that a GIS capability would bring, you are constantly aware that the GIS initiative is between the cross-hairs when budget cuts are made?

How best can you ensure that your executives unilaterally buy-in to GIS and see cutting GIS funding as a last resort? The answer is simpler than you think: Packaging.The means by which you package your arguments, logic and supporting evidence and the language you use to articulate them will have a direct impact on how successful you are at making your case and winning them over.

The One Page Strategy
The one page strategy is a simple but effective mechanism, developed in four steps, that helps GIS professionals package and articulate the benefits of GIS to their peers and executives effectively, while building consensus, promoting communication with the business and targeting under and over-investments in key areas.The four steps are:
  1. Focus on the benefits that matter to the executives
  2. Define and measure success
  3. Use a best-practice Capability Maturity Model (CMM) to identify improvements
  4. Develop a transformational roadmap.
This process is a means to build a fact-based, business-led strategy, business case and implementation roadmap - all in one - and it provides a vehicle to secure budget and executive support year-on-year.

Source: PA Consulting.(Click for larger image)

Step 1 - Focus on the benefits that matter to the executives

The key to successfully communicating with executives is to speak their language
- and to know what matters to them.You will quickly lose their interest if you use terms like geo-spatial, polygon, data model and integration.

And you may capture their interest but not necessarily their support even if you talk about GIS in relation to customers, shareholders and productivity.However, executives will buy-in if you can directly attribute the GIS to their objectives and help them to meet their targets; only then will you fully win their support.

How do you know what their objectives and targets are? Ask them.Often there are three to five key performance indicators against which they are being measured
- these are the things that keep them up at night.

Step 2 - Define and measure success
It has been said that if you're not keeping score, then you're only practicing.It is important for your business case to identify what metrics your proposed GIS-related initiatives will positively impact " e.g.decreased operational expenditure, decreased customer churn, increased market penetration etc.

Therein often lies the problem
- determining the true ROI for GIS-related initiatives has been traditionally difficult - intangible benefits or wild assumptions have dominated business cases, often with little ability to tie beneficial value achieved directly back to the GIS.

The one page approach mitigates this by using a CMM approach to examine the existing Business Design in order to expose key strengths and weaknesses.

Step 3 - Use a Best Practice CMM to identify improvements

The CMM is a collection of sector-specific measures that enables stakeholders to assess how closely aligned a GIS initiative is to industry Best Practice.Over or under investment in any of these key measures will impact the organization's ability to succeed.

By drawing out these weaknesses, opportunities for improvement can be identified and articulated.More importantly, the CMM provides a mechanism to engage with, and educate colleagues, so that findings represent a collective view.

By using the CMM, it is possible to identify the focus of strategic and tactical activities in light of the overarching business goals and targets.It helps determine where the business is today and what ''tomorrow'' should look like to allow the business goals to be met.

Step 4 - Develop a Transformational Roadmap
Once a capability gap has been exposed using the CMM, the next step is to determine what practically needs to be done to move from "today," to the vision of "tomorrow." The one page strategy links all the elements
- the business objectives, weaknesses and planned initiatives - together with via a Strategic Grid.Using the Strategic Grid it is possible to illustrate how a particular initiative will contribute to the business achieving its revenue, customer service and cost reduction goals and targets.And it is no coincidence that the executives will have many of these targets.

Successfully implementing a GIS is no trivial task and executive commitment is essential.To secure executive buy-in and ensure funding, sell the correctly packaged GIS and its related initiatives.

Published Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Written by Ross Smith and Neil Saward

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