How to Make a Business Case Your CTO Will Approve


“Do we even NEED monitoring and alerting tools in this day of hyper-converged, Cloud-based, massively redundant, super-virtualized systems that have built in self-healing automation?” Uh… shyeah! But the hard part is making your higher-ups understand that. In fact, this is a challenge that affects most areas of IT. We just have a hard time getting past the disconnect that causes other parts of businesses to see IT purely as a cost center.

We recently sat down with our CTO, Joel Dolisy, to pick his brain about when and why he’s inclined to say “yes” or “no” to approving new software, hardware, or some IT project. No matter how loudly or emphatically you shout “WE HAVE TO GET THIS PRODUCT!” there are some universal things you’ll need to consider. Here’s what we learned:

Start first with understanding the business strategy

What matters to your company? If you are going to spend money on a software product (or other IT initiative), you need to make a business case that aligns to your business’s strategy. If not, you are probably not telling a compelling story.

It’s likely your company cares about at least one of the following strategies:

  1. Growth: For many businesses, it’s about trying to accelerate market share and growth of your company.
  2. Cost reduction: In mature markets, it’s all about cash flow and saving money to be more efficient.
  3. Risk: In highly regulated markets, business can be all about risk avoidance.

If you want to make this decision a no-brainer, make sure you understand which mix of the above matches your company’s goals, and then describe how your business case will make an impact on your company’s business strategy.

“But wait! This software is free!”

Sure, so are many puppies – free to a good home. But when you bring it home, it requires food, vaccines, and daily care. No product is “free.” It’s likely that the system will have to be maintained, supported, or eventually integrated into your stack. Managers and decision makers are thinking in terms of “opportunity cost” or “total cost of ownership.” It’s important to understand that “cost” can come in a variety of flavors before you tout a “free tool.”

Timing can be key

Have the business gaps your solution addresses been recognized by your stakeholders? Has the need to address these gaps already been articulated? There may be fires to put out elsewhere first. You may need to consider where there are other more immediate challenges, and time your proposal accordingly.

Politicking vs Building Consensus

Nobody wants to feel like a sleazy sales guy, or worse, politician. And the good news is that in IT you don’t have to do these things. What you MUST do, however, is be a champion for the solution you are actually selling internally. And the best way to be a champion is to tell a story that inspires and excites people to believe in your cause.

While you may appreciate all of the technical features and benefits, it’s not just about the bits and bytes. How will it impact the business and the way people do their jobs? Will the solution make anyone’s life easier? Will it make an impact on the bottom line? These are the stories you’ll need to be able to tell in order to build a consensus for your proposal.

Rosy Picture? What’s the catch?

Beware of only painting a rosy picture of the solution. Chances are, management will sniff it out and begin to distrust. Be transparent with your proposal, sharing ALL the pros and cons and alternative options. At the end of the day, everyone wants to do what is right for the business.

What does “no” really mean?

“No” rarely means you’ve been unequivocally and irrevocably refused. Don’t just settle for no. Ask for more context. Chances are, no really means:

  • Not right now
  • You haven’t convinced me
  • You haven’t prepared me to take this to my manager
  • That’s not where we want to invest/not where we currently have gaps
  • You haven’t shown me both sides, alternative options

Being aware of any of these reasons can provide you a chance to reboot your request later, and help you develop a stronger business case when the timing is right.

But don’t just ask “why not?” Ask how you can make a stronger case and when it would be a good time to present it.

See for yourself

We recorded our conversation with Joel where there are plenty more nuggets of wisdom and perspective that will help you make a stronger business case for the tool you want to buy. Watch the free full recording below: