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Business Intelligence:
Creating a Successful Business Case to Advance Your Initiative

online columnist Jonathan Wu     Column published in DMReview.com
December 3, 2001
  By Jonathan Wu

Convincing others that your project is the one that should be funded can be a challenging job. As executives are tasked to manage the resources of their organization, justification for projects or initiatives is imperative in order to advance your cause. In most instances, a business case is required to document your initiative and to move it through the approval and funding process. A successful business case must be well written, compelling and able to withstand challenges from individuals who do not support or oppose your initiative.


A successful business case will contain many components and will be written in a manner that is easy to follow and understand. It must be written for the decision-maker, meaning the content of the business case must provide a level of understanding that she/he can comprehend. For example, if the decision-maker is the chief information officer or other executive that has a technology background, then the business case must contain the technical information that they are expecting. The components that are typically included in a business case are:

Executive Summary

The executive summary should concisely summarize the business case and entice the reader to continue reading the document. Most executives do not read beyond the executive summary because they just do not have the time and too many other things to do. Therefore, you must be brief and compelling. If they are interested in what has been addressed in this section, they will continue to read the business case. Otherwise, they are done reading the document and your chance to provide additional information may be over. As a general rule, this section should be kept to a page or two.


The current reporting environment is discussed in this section. A graphical representation of the technical architecture and functional process flow of information from the source systems to the information consumers helps to create a clear understanding of the existing environment. Provide just enough detail so that the reader will be able to understand the issue/need and your proposed solution. The tone of this section must be unbiased and accurate in order to establish credibility.


What are the issues or why is there a need to make a change to the current reporting environment? This section should identify the issues/needs and where possible include quotes or references from information consumers as to the problems that they are encountering. As with the background section, the tone of this section must be unbiased and accurate in order to establish credibility.

Proposed Solution

There are several questions that must be addressed in this section: What is the solution being proposed? How will it address the issues/needs of the current reporting environment? Why should the proposed solution be undertaken - now? A graphical representation of the proposed technical architecture and new functional process flow of information from the source systems to the information consumers will create an understanding of the proposed solution. Also, a comparison between the existing environment and proposed solution may be necessary. Provide just enough detail so that the reader will be able to understand the benefits and value of your proposed solution.

Industry Perspective

What have other organizations done to address similar issues/needs? This information can be obtained from trade show conferences such as DCI's Data Warehousing Conference, industry publications such as DM Review and independent research firms such as Gartner or META Group. A few case studies that summarize the issues/needs of each organization, the solutions that they have implemented and why they believe that the solution adds value to their organization are extremely beneficial for associating benefits with your initiative. The ideal case studies would come from organizations that are well respected within your industry.

Cost Justification

In this section, each financial measure must be supported by detailed analysis. You may be asked to substantiate the financial analyses, so be prepared to provide the detailed information. This section is typically the most difficult to develop because of the data gathering that is required to perform the analyses. You will undoubtedly find that the information you need is nonexistent and you will have to compile this information with the help of others within your organization. There are several questions that this section must address such as: How much does the current reporting environment cost your organization? How much will the proposed solution cost? What will be the potential financial benefit to the organization if it implements your proposed solution? What is the return on investment (ROI)? What is the payback period? What are the probabilities of outcome for this project? Taking a conservative approach to your assumptions will help to deter challenges to your analyses and cost justification.

Qualitative Benefits

There will be several benefits associated with implementing a BI or data warehousing solution that will be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. These benefits should be incorporated into the business case because they demonstrate value for the proposed solution. Examples of qualitative benefits are improved information access for end users and improved availability of information. Any benefit that is difficult to quantify or where several assumptions must be made in order to quantify the value should be listed in this section. The qualitative benefits may be more compelling that the quantitative benefits because of the difficulty to obtain information to assess the financial benefits.

Conclusion and Reasoning

The conclusion and reasoning section should be motivational in tone and should solidify your proposed solution. It must incite the decision- maker to act and move forward to the approval and funding process.


When creating a successful business case, you should keep in mind that it is effectively an exercise in persuasive writing. You must clearly and concisely articulate the issues or needs, your proposed solution, the rationale behind your proposed solution, the quantitative and qualitative benefits, the reasoning that supports your proposed solution and why it needs to be funded - now. Lastly, I firmly believe that an internal sponsor, not an external organization, must own the business case. While an external organization such as a professional services firm may provide assistance in creating the business case, the primary author must be an employee of the organization. Good luck with your business case!


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence.

Jonathan Wu is a senior principal with Knightsbridge Solutions. He has extensive experience designing, developing and implementing information solutions for reporting, analysis and decision-making purposes. Serving Fortune 500 organizations, Knightsbridge delivers actionable and measurable business results that inform decision making, optimize IT efficiency and improve business performance.  Focusing exclusively on the information management disciplines of data warehousing, data integration, information quality and business intelligence, Knightsbridge delivers practical solutions that reduce time, reduce cost and reduce risk. Wu may be reached at jwu@knightsbridge.com.

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