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Cloud Software Buyer’s Guide Chapter 3: Building Your Business Case

In Chapter 2 of this buyer’s guide, we went from a collection of loosely defined challenges, to a diverse team producing data-driven use cases for an urgent and impactful business problem. In this chapter, you’ll use your team’s research as the foundation to build your cloud business case. 

What is a Cloud Business Case? For the purposes of this buyer’s guide, we define a cloud business case as a written document or presentation with five essential sections: 

  1. Current state
  2. Business and industry environment
  3. What’s at stake
  4. Vision for future
  5. Strategy to achieve vision

Why Do I Need One? Developing your cloud business case is critical to achieving cross-stakeholder alignment and support for your strategy, as well as the overall success of your initiative. This format for a cloud business case ensures that the right people have a shared understanding of how this initiative gets them from the current state to the future state, and what is at stake if they do not change. 

From our experience, without alignment around all five of these areas from the beginning, you are leaving openings for new people to poke holes in or derail your strategy later on, putting the whole initiative at risk. 

The 5 Elements of Your Cloud Business Case

Book time with your working group to have the conversations necessary to draft each section. Have your interview data and use cases on hand for reference. You may also want to do some preliminary research related to section two (business and industry environment) to bring into the conversation. 

We recommend assigning someone to facilitate these conversations, either a trusted colleague or a member of the working group, to ensure the conversation stays on track and that all points of view are surfaced. Whether you tackle each section back-to-back in one day, or one by one in subsequent meetings, we highly recommend maintaining this order.  

Section 1: Current State of the Business Problem

The goal of this section is to describe the business problem as clearly and objectively as possible. Use quantitative data or measurable business cases wherever possible as it will be valuable going forward for generating ROI scenarios and assessing business impact. Answer key questions such as:

  • How does this business problem impact our business? 
  • How long has it been going on?
  • What have we found that is contributing to this problem?
  • Who does this business problem impact and in what ways?

Truly staring down the current state can be uncomfortable. It can cause people to get defensive, or you might be tempted to start “solutionizing” to address elements of the problem. Try to call out these behaviors in real time (without judgement) and table ideas to discuss later in the appropriate section. 

Section 2: Business and Industry Environment

Understanding what’s happening within this business area at your company is only a partial picture. The purpose of this section is to identify anything that is driving or contributing to this business problem but your company cannot influence or control.

Prior to having this conversation, leave some time for your team members to conduct preparatory research, and to engage your peers on industry working groups or forums you might be a part of. Then you’ll be collectively ready to answer questions like these:

  • What regulations or external authorities impact this business area?
  • What disruptive forces are we currently experiencing or likely to in the future (ex. shift from centralized offices)?
  • How are our peer companies tackling this issue (or not)? 
  • What is the state of our competitive landscape? Is there something competitors or consumers are doing that is putting pressure on this business area?
  • What are industry thought leaders recommending related to this issue?
  • What technology is available out there that purports to modernize this business area?

With a clear understanding of the current state and the environment, your working group is ready to consider what’s at stake. 

Section 3: What’s at stake?

We recommend approaching this question from at least two angles:

  • What does it cost us to keep things the way they are?
    • Financially
    • Strategically
    • Emotionally / People Management
  • What opportunities might we miss out on if we don’t change? 
    • Time to focus on more strategic projects? 
    • More resources to go towards higher value investments?
    • Get more products to market faster?
    • Industry stake - will we get disrupted / left behind? 

If this section isn’t impactful, and clearly convinces stakeholders that a transformation is necessary, it will be hard to gain leadership buy-in and funding to go forward. This is your opportunity to shift the conversation from “should we take this on?” to “how we’re working is untenable, how do we proceed?”

Section 4: Vision

You’ve made it through the tough conversations - congratulations! Take a stretch break, eat a meal, grab a cup of coffee or a drink. Now is the fun part. 

Your team gets to imagine, without conventional restrictions, what this area of your company could be like. Challenge your assumptions (we call this “the art of the possible”) so you don’t simply propose to do tomorrow what you did yesterday, but faster. This section should answer questions like:

  • What value does this business area have the potential to bring to the overall organization?
  • Who should be involved in this business area? What perspectives would make it perform at its full potential?
  • How should they collaborate?
  • What data would you like to have to make proactive business decisions?

The goal of this section is to enroll readers in your vision for this business area that covers financial, strategic, people-driven aspects. It should leave them eager to understand how your working group proposes to make this a reality, which brings us (finally) to the strategy. 

Section 5: Strategy

You’ve been itching to get to this topic since section one, and it’s finally time to talk about how your working group proposes to solve this problem. We recommend avoiding outdated “waterfall” projects that run the risk of trying to do too much at once and accomplishing nothing.

Instead, work with agility to quickly spin up a pilot with a bias for achieving quick wins, and then use the momentum and learnings to expand on what works. 

  • Outline criteria for prioritizing use cases 
  • Define the scope of a pilot program to solve the top one to two use cases in 2-3 months (not several years)
  • Assuming success, lay out how you’d expand on the pilot to address other use cases and eventually transform the full business problem area
  • Recommend the stakeholders you believe will need to be involved to make this initiative successful

 Download this free Microsoft PowerPoint template to capture your business case  content.

Looking Ahead: Cloud Vendor Evaluation and Selection

We’ve gone from business problems and use cases to a comprehensive business case that will compel diverse stakeholders to buy into your vision and strategy for this business area. In the next chapter, you’ll take your vision and strategy and find a trusted partner to help make it a reality. We hope you’ll join us for the next phase in the buying journey.

Tips and Key Takeaways

  • Each of the five cloud business case sections is essential to compel diverse stakeholders to buy into your proposal. Don’t skip over the tough elements of the current state, or stay small in the vision. 
  • Take a phased approach for your strategy: quickly spin up a pilot, learn, and expand on what works. This helps avoid the trap of trying to do too much at once and accomplishing nothing.
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