Making a Business Case to Change IT: A Step-by-Step Guide

To survive in today’s fast-paced business world, it is crucial to make a business case to change IT, but earning executive support is not always easy.

Most executives are already overwhelmed with countless projects and requests, on top of their already-busy schedules.

Yet without their support, it will be difficult to change IT – an absolute necessity for any organization that wants to keep up with today’s changing times.

Below, we’ll cover the key steps you need to follow when making a business case for IT change in your organization.

How to Make a Business Case to Change IT: A Step-by-Step Guide

Here are the key points that must be addressed when advocating for digital transformation, digital-first business models, investments in IT, or any other IT change initiative.

1. Know who you’re targeting

Executive sponsors play an important role in any project, and their involvement can mean the difference between success and failure.

Yet every executive has their own domain, their own area of interest, and their own language.

CEOs, for instance, have one set of concerns, which often center around areas such as organizational performance, business growth, and staying competitive. 

CFOs, on the other hand, are often focused on financial and budgeting concerns, while COOs are concerned with operational efficiency.

2. Clearly define the benefits, risks, and reasons behind the change

Every IT change program will come with both risks and rewards. 

It is crucial to know what those are well before actually proposing the project, in order to make a fully transparent case to the prospective sponsor.

In other words, be sure to clearly articulate:

  • Why the change is a good idea
  • The benefits of changing
  • The risks of changing
  • The downsides of not changing

These points will then later be used to both make your case and inform your plan of action.

3. Develop a concrete plan of action

A concrete roadmap for change will demonstrate several things to prospective sponsors:

  • That you are serious about change
  • That you are not “flying blind”
  • That the aforementioned costs and benefits have been addressed carefully

This plan of action should form one of the core parts of your change proposal, when you actually make it.

Before actually approaching the executive, however, it is important to learn the conversation already going on inside their heads.

4. Translate that plan into your target audience’s language

As mentioned above, it is important to understand your target executive’s concerns and address those. 

Yet knowing their concerns is only the first step – next, you must design your proposal so that it actually addresses those concerns.

In other words, translates the benefits of your proposed IT investments into their language.

Ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • What are their biggest pain points? Do they care more about innovation? Performance? Risk management? Operational efficiency?
  • What keywords or terms will they understand? First, it is necessary to use those specific keywords in your presentation. This will help leaders better grasp your message and its value. 
  • Are there any terms to avoid? Some keywords will actually repel your audience instantly, so these should be avoided or qualified. “Risk” is a common example that certain professionals, such as CFOs, tend to be averse to. 

By couching your business case in the right language, you’ll have a much better chance of getting your ideas across – and it will be easier to hold conversations about the proposal when the time comes.

5. Be willing to commit, and find a team of supporters

One key principle of change management, as discussed in Kotter’s 8-step model, is the need to have a guiding coalition, or a team of change leaders.

This team, ideally a cross-functional team composed of both IT and non-IT personnel, will act as advocates for change within the organization, and their support will be crucial for its success.

Naturally, the actual creation of that team should wait until the project begins. However, as John Kotter pointed out in the latest version of his change framework, these change management steps can be run concurrently.

Also, and just as importantly, if you have a tentative commitment from a potential change team, you can use this to bolster your business case and further demonstrate your commitment to change.

6. Create and make your proposal

Up until now, everything that we’ve talked about has just been prep work for actually making and presenting the case for change.

At this point, you should:

  • Know your target executive
  • Understand their concerns, goals, and pain points
  • Define how your proposed IT project can both the executive and the organization
  • Have a concrete plan of action, and, if possible, a team of tentative supporters
  • Articulate that strategy in a language they can understand

Once all of these points have been addressed, they can be included in a cohesive argument – that is, your business case.

Then, with that solid argument in hand, make a formal request and proposal at an appropriate time and place.

7. Negotiate and clarify roles and expectations

If the executive agrees to support and sponsor the project, it is crucial to remember that sponsoring change management requires commitment and activity on the executive’s part.

They cannot merely be a sponsor in name only, they have to actually be a change leader, which means:

  • Being held accountable for the project’s outcomes
  • Representing the project to other executives
  • Communicating the change to employees
  • Being visible and leading by example

While this may seem like extra responsibility for the executive, which it is, if you made your case properly, the project will benefit them personally, so they will be much more likely to take on that responsibility.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.