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5 Interesting People from the MISA Prairies Conference

Last week, Dave McGarva, Managing Principal of Management Consulting here at Tantus Solutions, co-presented The Art of Collaboration at the 2015 MISA Prairies Chapter Annual Conference. 

A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the difference between MISA Prairies and miso soup, but that was before Tantus was fortunate enough to work with this group to explore opportunities for municipal technology collaboration. MISA is the Municipal Information Systems Association and Alberta is very well represented in the Prairies chapter. During this project, funded by the Government of Alberta under the Regional Collaboration Grant, I worked with 29 Alberta municipalities, asking their IT professionals to look at their applications from the perspective of their partner departments and assess them for opportunities to share with others or opportunities to piggy back on the efforts of others in the name of economies of scale and service improvement. In other words, could these municipalities collaborate with one another to share costs and improve their IT applications?

It was a fascinating project and the project manager, Sabina Visser of the City of Lethbridge, and I were asked to present the project at the MISA Prairies conference in Banff last week. (The slide deck is available on SlideShare, and in this post). Presenting was fun and the sessions were good, but what struck me most was the diversity and expertise of the conference attendees. Let me introduce you to some of these fascinating folks. The list could easily have been much longer, but time limits all things – maybe next year, Gordon, Corey, Marty and Natalia.

Mark Goddard, Director – Member Services Infrastructure (Info-Tech)

Mark knows his stuff and in his role representing a technology research company, makes a compelling case for using solid research in the initiation phase of all technology initiatives. What separated him from the crowd is his knowledge of beer! 726 different brands consumed as of last Thursday. All of this experience is documented and catalogued at http://thebeerlist.ca/. Here is a guy who can clarify ABV and IBU and tell you which lager to pair with a steak salad. Now that is practical knowledge sharing!

Adam Sharmann, Manager – Information Services at Sturgeon County

Get two minor hockey dads going and it is hard to stop! Adam is overseeing the IT support for one of the fastest growing municipal organizations in Alberta. Moving from a mandate-focussed on roads and agricultural support to one that includes full-suite service delivery, economic development and residential expansion is no small task. It is fun to hear him talk about his workplace challenges as one would talk about their kid’s next tough hockey game – optimistic, excited and prepared.

Allan Wingenbach, Supervisor – Information Technology at Town of Canmore

It is hard to believe that there is a better combination of rocky mountain laid-back and ready-for-business IT professional. Allan calls home what many around the world consider a dream vacation destination, but he wants to talk scalability. Between summer season and ski season is a time when Canmore empties briefly before the downhill hordes return. Throw in one municipal building that appears to be in the universe’s black hole of broadband access. Want to take a guess what this does to need forecasting and fulfilling business support? Ask Allan and he will tell you, but in a way that makes you want to work with him to figure it out.

Sophie Mercer, Information Systems Coordinator at County of Grande Prairie

You know that person that takes on an incredibly complex task, makes it run like clockwork and never seems frazzled? Yeah, that’s Sophie. There she is supporting the organizing committee for a conference of 160 delegates, 59 individual presentations and events in 10 tracks, 41 speakers. No problem! And to top it all off, when the crowd won’t settle down for an announcement, does she scream or yell or clink a glass with a fork? Of course not, she belts out the ‘Star Search’ part of 1970s Joplin power ballad, “Piece of My Heart.” Reaction? Silence.

Geoff Hogan, IT Director at the County of Grey

You know those smug Ontario guys who come out west and act like they invented the Internet? That is certainly not Geoff, but he may actually be helping to reinvent it for southwest Ontario. Geoff has a lead role in a project called SWIFT (SouthWestern Integrated Fibre Technology). Their tag line is ‘Ultra-high speed broadband for everyone’ which hits home to those living on the prairies outside the high population density centres. SWIFT starts with the premise that there isn’t a business case for for-profit providers to run reasonably priced fibre connectivity to rural sites. They propose to use public money to change that business case to incent private industry to build this network while providing a royalty back to SWIFT to fund further development. Geoff is very passionate about the topic and is happy to chat with you about the current (and imminent) digital divide among large parts of Canada and wants to be part of the solution.

 

— Dave McGarva

This post was written by Dave. If you’d like to talk to him about why you’re not on his list this year, feel free to contact him.

Business Cases: 10 Steps to Maximize Investment Value (Steps 4 & 5)

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Tantus business case methodology, written by Dave McGarva. This is part 5 of 9. The next instalment will be posted in June 2015. 

Part 1 – Why do you need a business case?

Part 2 – The CLEAR Methodology

Part 3 – Business Cases: 10 Steps to Maximize Investment Value (Steps 1&2)

Part 4 – Business Cases: 10 Steps to Maximize Investment Value (Step 3)

In the last two months we have posted the first three steps of our business case methodology: define the problem (step 1), create a clear definition of the project (step 2) and test its alignment with your existing strategy (step 3). Below we will describe the next two steps of our methodology: analyze the environment (step 4) and develop alternatives (step 5).

 

 

Step 4: Analyze the Environment

Methodology

Step 4 involves a comprehensive analysis of similar initiatives which have been conducted by comparable organizations. This may present other options based on similar projects which have been undertaken. A comprehensive environmental analysis includes what specific initiatives other organizations have implemented and their impacts. This section includes an identification of opportunities and threats based on the information gathered in the scan.

Tips

When conducting an environmental review of similar organizations, it is important to use the experience of others to set realistic expectations. The approach of others identifies possible solutions as well as setting expectations and outcomes.

Traps

Not completing an environmental scan can put the business case at risk. Without examining what similar organizations are doing, you may miss optimal solutions, strategic partnerships and potential risks and challenges.

Also, ignoring similar projects often leads to duplicate work.

Case

Tantus consulted an engagement for a large provincial government department. The department was tasked with disposing of surplus assets and supplies. We were assigned to look at the department, and find cost savings.

Rather than theorize or present alternatives with no tangible examples, Tantus looks at similar groups – in this case, other provinces. By studying what other provinces have done, endured, or attempted, we were able to develop a clear picture of what our client was likely to face from these similar circumstances. It put theory into practice.

By studying similar organizations, it provided the client with an understanding of the pros and cons of each potential move, and helped structure a decision when picking an alternative.

 

 

Step 5: Develop Alternatives

Methodology

This step involves the development of alternatives available to the client. The alternatives are supported by the information gathered in the previous steps, ensuring they meet the desired outcomes of the project. Status quo is always included as an alternative.

This step also includes scoring how well each alternative aligns with the project objectives outlined in Step 2.

Tips

It is important to develop alternatives that truly test the entire scope of approaches to the business problem defined in Step 1. The alternatives should include an analysis of the status quo, where no investment is made. The alternatives should also include an option that truly pushes the boundaries in terms of organizational comfort and capacity. It is important to show potential funders or supporters that all possible scenarios have been explored.

Traps

Failing to thoroughly explore all possible solutions puts funding and support in peril, not to mention the effectiveness of the business case. Funders may be hesitant to support the recommendations of a business case if they do not feel that all potential solutions were explored. An inadequate study could also potentially pass over an optimal solution.

Case

A client in the non-profit sector required a business case to examine available options for an IT system which would improve information sharing and collaboration between a number of social agencies.

With a number of stakeholders and a large technological component, Tantus examined current industry trends. We presented alternatives on a scale – from the status quo, to a fully collaborative, one-window approach enabled by a technical system. With the information presented on a scale, the client could decide what level of system they needed to accomplish their goals for a reasonable price.

This approach allows for a more robust analysis of the available options. The ambitious alternative also provided a stretch goal for the industry to build towards.

 

Watch for our next instalment in June when we talk about the next steps for maximizing the value from your business cases.

Business Cases: 10 Steps to Maximize Investment Value (Step 3)

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Tantus business case methodology, written by Dave McGarva. This is part 4 of 9. The next instalment will be posted in May 2015. 

Part 1 – Why do you need a business case?

Part 2 – The CLEAR Methodology

Part 3 – Business Cases: 10 Steps to Maximize Investment Value

Last month we posted the first two steps for maximizing your investment value from a business case. Step 1 was to define the problem. Step 2 involves creating a clear definition of the project. Step 3 is where we test the alignment of the project with the existing strategy of your organization.

Step 3: Test Alignment with Strategy

Methodology

Step 3 includes an analysis of how the overall project will align with, or contribute to, the strategic initiatives of the stakeholder organizations. This analysis includes a thorough scan of the strategic planning documents of each stakeholder group to identify which initiatives will be impacted by the project. The project is assigned a rating based on how significant the impact or alignment is on each strategic initiative identified.

Tips

When assessing the project for strategic alignment, it is important to include an assessment for external stakeholders. Identifying project alignment with stakeholders outside of the organization provides an opportunity to identify potential strategic partnerships and relationships. This also provides opportunities for cooperative problem solving.

Traps

Not conducting a strategic alignment analysis can weaken your business case. There is a risk of not receiving approval or funding if you have not identified how the project contributes to the overall corporate strategy. Other projects with impact on yours must be considered.

Case

A small government ministry was tasked with undertaking a large project, but couldn’t attain the necessary funding. After being repeatedly rebuffed, the Ministry decided to take a different approach.

Using a business case methodology, they highlighted the strategic alignment of their project with the government’s overall goals. This way, the benefits of the project for other larger ministries was also illustrated.

An emphasis on strategic alignment showed the funding body the benefit for all parties involved, and the project was approved.

 

Watch for our next instalment in May when we talk about the next steps for maximizing the value from your business cases.

 

Business Cases: 10 Steps to Maximize Investment Value (Steps 1 & 2)

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Tantus business case methodology, written by Dave McGarva (dave.mcgarva@tantus.com). This is part 3 of 9. The next instalment will be posted in May 2015.

Part 1 – Why Do a Business Case?

Part 2 – Our CLEAR Methodology for Business Cases

 

To benefit from the business case methodology, a rigorous, objective, and honest attitude is required during its creation. To do otherwise is to risk making a poor investment. We have developed a 10-step process to guide our clients through the business case process, which includes a comprehensive options analysis. This ensures that our clients are equipped with sufficient information to make decisions that maximize the value of their investment. This post covers our first 2 steps in detail. Watch for our next post for the next step.

 

Step 1: Define the Problem

Methodology

Step 1 includes a review of the organization and its industry. The review includes a concise description of the business problem or decision. It also includes a description of the opportunity that exists to solve or answer the problem or decision in question.

This step also includes an in depth analysis of the organization’s current state, including all relevant systems, processes or services that could be impacted by the business case. The analysis is developed through information gathered at the initial project meeting and a scan of background material.

Tips

Business problems or questions need to be explored from different perspectives. One way to accomplish this is to approach the problem or question from the perspective of each stakeholder, as well as the funders or decision-making body. This allows for a more thorough understanding of the business problem.

Traps

If you don’t have a full understanding of the problem, extra time and effort are an inevitable result. Correctly defining the problem is critical.

Case

We were tasked with assessing the need for a real-time information system for a local organization.

The organization focused on expensive technological updates to improve communication, as this seemed the most obvious (and direct) issue. When we looked at  the issue, we took a bigger picture perspective, and applied a business context the client had not initially considered.

Our perspective analyzed business processes, staffing, and the organization’s governance structure. By identifying these larger components, it soon became evident that the organization’s issues were not strictly technical, and simply implementing improved technology would not have solved the issue on its own.

 

 

Step 2: Describe the Project

Methodology

The project description is an exercise in scoping a project and determining what information will be included in the final business case. It includes a high level description of the project, what the objectives of the project are, what information is considered in scope, the anticipated outcomes and a categorical breakdown of stakeholders, with identified business requirements.

Tips

It is important to identify key objectives for the project. This process breaks a complex problem or project into smaller, more manageable sections. The process of developing specific objectives also allows for the development of a wider range of potential solutions in Step 5.

Traps

If scope is not properly identified, the project is at risk. Identifying scope will focus the business case and solution development. This ensures that the project does not become so broadly focused that it becomes unmanageable.

Case

Sometimes we need to scope the project, because the problem or issue isn’t what we think it is.

Recently, a client wanted to conduct a business case studying the best options for increasing their manufacturing capacity by investing in a new facility. Because they wanted to improve capacity it appeared that what they needed was a bigger, better, and larger facility.

But upon further inspection, it wasn’t the facility that needed fixing. The actual process to manufacture the products needed to be reviewed, and the facility had little to do with it.

As a result, the analysis led to a number of potential alternatives outside of building a new facility – a costly venture that would have slowed the company’s future development.

 

Coming soon –  Step 3 – Test Alignment with Strategy

Our Business Case Methodology (continued)

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Tantus business case methodology, written by Dave McGarva (dave.mcgarva@tantus.com). This is part 2 of 9. The next installment will be posted in April 2015.

The CLEAR Methodology

The Tantus business case methodology can be described using the acronym CLEAR. The business case methodology is considered “Concise,” “Logical,” “Encompassing,” “Accountable” and “Robust.” The firm has used the methodology successfully with a variety of clients to secure funding for a wide variety of projects and capital investment decisions. The CLEAR methodology is outlined below.

C – Concise

A Business case gathers and distills a wide variety of information about a given business decision. Risks, costs, stakeholder impacts and strategic alignment are all considered for a spectrum of alternatives. This information is distilled down to a simple conclusion that allows for quick and efficient decision making.

L – Logical

Alternatives are evaluated based on quantified scoring numbers. Project risks, impacts on stakeholders, alignment with project objectives, and an analysis of the costs and benefits for each alternative are scored and evaluated.

E – Encompassing

A Business Case is encompassing because it uses a broad spectrum of ways to approach and evaluate a business opportunity/decision. The approach takes into account each of the potential stakeholder groups that may be impacted by the project, and factors their impact scoring into the final evaluation of the alternatives.

A – Aligned

A business case is accountable because they are driven by stakeholder input and are tied to the strategic direction of stakeholder organizations and project objectives. Stakeholder groups are invited to provide their scoring regarding each alternative’s impact on their business. An analysis is also conducted to evaluate how the project aligns with the strategic directions of stakeholders and with the project objectives.

R – Robust

“Robust” because our business cases include an extensive look at all of the options available to the client. An entire spectrum of alternatives is evaluated, including the status quo, to ensure all options are examined and that the most comprehensive evaluation possible is conducted. The methodology also involves evaluating potential solutions in a number of different ways to ensure a robust analysis.

 

Our Business Case Methodology (why do one, anyways?) (part 1 of 9)

This post is part of an ongoing series on the Tantus business case methodology, written by Dave McGarva (dave.mcgarva@tantus.com).

These articles will describe the purpose, content, and use of a business case to support executive decision-making. This introductory post is intended to clear up some misconceptions about what a business case is, how it differs from a business plan, and what it’s used for.

Business Cases 101

A business case is a decision making tool, based on a thorough analysis of the available options. Based on our experience with business case development, we have identified three core reasons, or common purposes, for why clients require a business case. Specifically the three common purposes for clients are:

  1. Seeking funding or approval
  2. Analysis for business decision making
  3. Maximize value of an investment

One of the reasons clients require business cases is to show that they have conducted a thorough analysis of all of the options available when seeking funding or approval from a finance or decision-making entity in their organization. Another is to gain information on all of the options available to them in order to make a business or investment decision. The final reason most people require a business case is to ensure that the decision or investment they want to make maximizes the value. A business case, including a thorough cost benefit analysis and stakeholder impact analysis, ensures the selection of the available option that provides the greatest value.

What is a Business Case?

An effective business case is a multi-purpose document that generates the support and participation needed to turn an idea into reality and for making decisions regarding complex business problems or projects. It is a structured methodology, explaining what the idea, problem, or opportunity is, how and who it will impact, what others are doing, each of the alternatives, the associated impacts, risks and cost/benefit of each alternative, and makes recommendations. The business case is intuitive and inclusive in its examination of all aspects of a business decision or project. A comprehensive business case leads to a logical and rational conclusion for making a decision to proceed with the optimal alternative.

The business case is a comprehensive process that can become complex depending on the nature of the business initiative. For instance, the extent to which an initiative has some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Multi-functional
  • Multi-departmental
  • Affects many stakeholders (internal or external)
  • Involves substantial changes to service delivery or operational processes
  • Involves high risk or possible impacts
  • Highly visible to senior management, legislature, council,  general public or shareholders
  • Significant in terms of funding, resources, stakeholders
  • Multi-year costs and multi-year return on investment
  • Multi-year realization of benefits
  • Contingent on timeframe

These characteristics will determine whether the business case may be developed in a few hours or take many months to develop. It may even be necessary to initiate a trial or pilot projects to test the feasibility of a particular approach before the business case is completed. In this case, a separate business case will be needed to support the pilot project.

A business case is related to a business initiative. The business initiative could spawn multiple projects (i.e. feasibility study, request for proposals, development/construction, implementation, transition), each one may warrant their own sub-business case, for funding/resource allocation.

Who Might Require a Business Case?

A business case is useful tool for anyone with a business initiative or decision and needs an objective analysis of the alternatives available. Often people needing a business case are looking for funding or buy-in for a particular initiative or decision. A business case is a tool used to present to an executive team or finance entity to secure funding or approval to proceed with a project. People in need of this tool can include:

  • People who want to make capital investment decision making
  • Someone pitching a financial entity or executive team
  • Someone going for funding / approval
  • Usually from a functional area wanting funding / approval for a project, investment, etc
  • Often have to go through a decision-making body, as seen above

When is a Business Case Required?

In general, any initiative that will have a significant impact on either internal processes or the delivery of services to clients, particularly if it requires significant allocation or reallocation of resources, should be justified by means of a business case. Each organization should follow its own practice/guidelines, to establish when a business case is required, but there are certain indicators that can help identify need:

  • When a business decision is being made
  • To demonstrate that the “thinking” was carried out
  • Typically required to gain funding
  • Need to thoroughly explore the options that are available to them
  • Need to take steps to make decisions on spending options
  • Require rigour in the decision making process
  • Maximize the value of dollars spent