Building a business case

The problem:
Getting senior management buy in for projects which make use of activity data to enhance the user experience or management of facilities is key if projects are to get the go ahead in the first place and become a sustainable service in the long term. There is a lack of persuasive business cases to refer to in the public realm. This guide gives some high level advice for the effective development of a solid business case.
In the current programme, activity data is being used to enhance the learner experience through recommending additional material, effectively manage resources and increase student success by helping them improve their online practices. Each of these is a powerful strategic benefit.
The solution:
The most important thing to remember when developing a business case is that its purpose is to persuade someone to release resources (primarily money or staff time) for the proposed activity. The person who will have to make the decision has a wide variety of competing requests and demands on the available resources, so that what they need to know is how the proposed project will benefit them.
The answer to this question should be that it helps them move towards their strategic goals. So the first thing that you need to find out is what their strategic goals are. Typically these are likely to include delivering cost savings, improving the student experience or making finite resources go further. You should then select one (or at most two) of these goals and explain how the project will help to meet this goal (or goals). Aligning the project to many goals has the danger of diluting each of them and having less impact than a strong case for a single goal.
Structure of a business case:
  • Title
  • Intended audience
  • Brief description
  • Alternative options
  • Return on investment
  • Costs
  • Project plan
  • Risks
  • Recommendation
Do not 'over egg the pudding' in terms of understating the costs and risks or overstating the benefits. If the costs or benefits are not credible then the business case may be rejected as it appears to be not offering realistic alternatives.
The benefits should be realistic and quantifiable and, wherever possible, the benefits should be quantified in monetary terms. This allows the decision maker to compare the benefits and costs (which can usually be expressed in monetary terms), and so clearly see the return on investment, and compare this business case with other calls on their funding and staff.
Taking it further:
If the sector is to build a higher level picture of the business cases for exploiting activity data and also for pursuing the path towards open data then it is important to share knowledge of what works in terms of convincing key decision makers to give sustained support to using activity data.
The programme has produced some example business cases which can be used to understand the type of information that it is sensible to include, and which may form the basis for your business case. However, the business case must relate to the local circumstances in which you are writing it, and the audience for which you are writing it.
Additional resources:
Guidance and templates
Examples and further reading