Business case development

Many of my engagements start out through a request to validate, or develop, a business case for search investment as a basis for obtaining authority and budget to proceed with the project. The requirement is invariably for a Return on Investment justification.

When starting a ‘Return on Investment Project’ I always ask for the ROI justifications used for other applications, saying they will help me understand how the company allocates overhead costs for enterprise-wide applications. Invariably I discover they don’t exist and that search is a special case.

Let me look first at the investment side of the equation. The first question is whether this is just the software costs or should include professional services costs and internal staff resources. Keep in mind that the typical license costs for enterprise search are unavailable up front. Potential vendors are always reluctant to provide a firm quote until they are assured a contract is forthcoming. Moreover, the license costs may only represent 30% of the total investment.

How are you going to measure return? Are you looking for a financial return or performance return? Whatever measure you use, the final challenge with an ROI approach is defining what is an acceptable ROI figure.

Search software vendors often argue that an investment in a search application will result in an increase in productivity. Businesses measure many performance metrics, but productivity — outside of manual work linked to manufacturing or logistics — is rarely measured with the degree of accuracy needed to make a productivity case for the staff involved in research, corporate services, marketing or strategic planning, to name a few.

Search vendors issue press statements about the increase in productivity their application will deliver, but never include any quantifiable indicators of before and after. As with ROI, the question businesses cannot answer is what level of increased productivity will make a definitive business case? Is it 1%, 2.5%, 3.2% … or some other number?

A core element of the productivity approach is that a faster search equals a better search. No research justifies this claim as this analysis demonstrates. The range of search types is so broad that averaging out a session time is completely inappropriate, as is the myth that enterprise search users only use one search term.

Then there is the “one search to rule them all” justification. This at least recognizes the multiple search applications in use at any given time in an enterprise and raises the issue of how a master application fits into the picture. Ask yourself how many times each week do your employees need to search across every one of these applications? Does this make a generic business case?

In the final analysis, the only approach that makes sense and delivers value is to fully understand not only what information employees are looking for but also why they are looking, how they use the information and the risks of not finding the information they need.

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