Building the Case for Your Data Architecture: The Art of Securing Executive Sponsorship

In my last post, I discussed how to pick the initial project  to begin transforming your data management architecture. The short version is, “Find a business initiative that has funding, and discuss how better data delivery would improve bottom-line success, and how you’d measure that success.” Sounds straightforward enough, but it comes down to a lot of business meetings, and many IT people are much more comfortable with topics around technology than around business.

But this is the road forward. IT is becoming more collaborative with, and enmeshed in, the business. Once you and your LOB collaborators have outlined a discrete data project with real, measurable value, you’ve got to formally sell it. You write, and then present, a strong business case. This is another stage that may be unfamiliar to many IT leaders. We go over the components of a successful business case in-depth in our white paper, “How to Get C-Level Buy-In for Your Data Management Architecture.”

Here, I’ll discuss a bit of what that business case entails and, moreover, how you use it.

Building Your Business Case

data architecture
Here’s an example of one that shows benefit range across scenarios vs. estimated costs.

Your initial discussions with your business counterparts will have identified both a plan for success and some willing collaborators. You’ll count on their general business knowledge and specific insight into working with your company leaders. Once you’ve got some business-side help, it’ll be easier to put together the business case and make the presentation together.

Our “C-Level Buy-In” paper lists 20 core questions that will help you create a compelling business case. I won’t dig through all 20 here, but let’s just look at the first five, focused around finding an executive sponsor.

  1. What pressing business strategy or initiative can your efforts support today?
  2. Who is the business driver?
  3. Who is the analytics driver?
  4. What are their goals, and by what metrics will the success of the initiative be judged?
  5. How can I show the part played by great data in achieving these goals?

Each of these questions helps you identify your key stakeholders and how you can address their concerns in a way that leads to identifiable, meaningful ROI. Then gather material from stakeholders (and anyone who has meaningful information), so that you can sit down with that executive sponsor.

Your Message—In Their Language

The approach we’re discussing here—identify a funded business initiative, and build a case for a relevant analytics project—is meant to overcome a core challenge for analytics: They’re almost never funded line items. It’s the rare IT or business budget that breaks out x percent of funding for data management. Yet any data-driven effort is only as good as the data itself, and pretty much everything, these days, is data-driven. So it’s important to understand that even as you present a logical, well-researched, compelling business case, you’re still asking your business execs to think differently about the role and importance of data.

Your message is that any application or business process will only be as good as the data that fuels it, and that data is probably drawn from a large number of sources and formats. It’s always a mistake to get too technical in presenting to the business, but a broad overview of the data systems and flow in your organization can be an impressive visual. For most large enterprises, that diagram will look like what a cat does to a ball of yarn. Don’t try to discuss each connection—just the idea that this is the data architecture from which they’re expecting near-instantaneous analytics should make your point.

The Persuasive Document

The white paper goes further into the step-by-step building of a winning business case. It covers the seven core elements:

  1. Executive summary
  2. Major business use cases
  3. Qualitative findings and interview quotes
  4. Business value quantification
  5. Benchmarking vs. peers
  6. Proposed solution
  7. Analyst research

Being able to speak to the business, in business terms, is an essential part of an IT leader’s tool kit these days, and I hope that resources like this white paper can help you make a compelling business case for the initiatives that will transform not only how IT data management works, but how your businesses will succeed.

Download our ROI-focused white paper, “How to Get C-Level Buy-In for Your Data Management Architecture”, for a complete look at making the business argument for your data architecture vision.