How to build a business case towards a modern workplace

How is your relationship with digital workplace transformation? All businesses know this is something they need to address. But how to make a case for it can be flummoxing: Because our employees are ahead of us when it comes to new tech? Because everyone else is doing it?

If you don’t know specifically why your business will benefit from digital transformation it’s impossible to argue for it and your attempt may be slow and frustrating.

At the Modern Workplace Alliance we have seen first-hand those businesses that drive successful transformations and those that fail to generate the sound business case needed to invest in a truly modern workplace.

Here we share insights from some of our Modern Workplace Alliance team into the seven key ingredients for nailing the business case – and by association – a successful modern workplace transition.

Connect digital transformation to a tangible business case

Generic arguments are never compelling and nor should they be. Digital transformation is a big undertaking, a significant investment and should not be taken on lightly.

“You must anchor any modern data platform implementation back to a real business case,” says Dougall McBurnie, Managing Director, Versor. “so there is real value in what you are doing. It sounds obvious, but it is not done all the time.”

Paul Woods, Founder, Adopt & Embrace agrees: “The most successful digital transformation projects are when business drives the decision not the tech department.”

Tangible business drivers might be things like compliance or data security. Or more visionary targets such as driving revenue or improving response times.

“It is sometimes hard to prove a tangible outcome for some of these projects,” concedes Stuart Moore, Director of Sales & Marketing, Insync Technology. But, he says being aware of potential flow-on effects can boost your argument, for example, where “there’s a desire to keep up with security and compliance and then the side benefit is improved productivity.”

Understand that the intangible is now tangible

The other tool in your business argument kit is that the intangible is now tangible. Things like employee satisfaction, internal communication, team collaborating capacity. These can all be built into a business case.

Dissatisfied staff don’t perform well. They leave. Productivity is significantly impacted by slow or unreliable communications. Opportunities are to be found with mobile workforces but if they can’t connect and collaborate this becomes inefficient.

“The intangible is now tangible,” says Tom Hiscutt, COO, Engage Squared. “The cost of recruitment, time, unhappy employees, these can be quantified with evidence built to support the case.”

Dougall McBurnie recommends drilling down into the need you have identified (e.g. communications) so you can flesh it out from a number of different angles:

“How do you justify a hard dollar case around communication? How important is it to have all employees on the same page, and to control document access and usage? Is there a single source of truth? Start small, focus on a need and then build up the related benefits and other business needs such as reporting tools, compliance dimensions, auditability.”

Don’t assume tech team will or should drive change

Every partner stressed that successful modern workplace transformations are not and should not be led by the tech team.

Stuart Moore is blunt on this point:

“Digital transformation is not about tech. A modern workplace is what matters to the organisation. What is the purpose? It could be to reduce time in hospital, get a more effective use of your staff time. For governments it might be security and compliance. It varies from vertical to vertical so fundamentally understanding your organisation is key.”

Of course it’s crucial to involve IT and they will provide valuable insight and expertise. Dougall McBurnie notes that “the artform is to ensure IT facilitates and collaborates with the business to ensure they will own and lead the change” and that striking a balance between owning the tech piece and supporting business commerciality is key.

Get multiple business units involved

It’s easier to build a strong business case if you involve multiple divisions. Once you start drilling into it, this proves itself. There is always a “meshing of priorities” – as Stuart Moore calls it – to be found.

HR will want to measure employee satisfaction and experience and expedite on-boarding of new employees. IT will be keen to modernise and streamline tech systems. Sales teams will value change that provides greater connectivity and information flow. Finance will jump at the opportunity to get better and more accurate data. C-level are always seeking ways to improve productivity and reduce costs.

Take the time to talk and listen. Your business units will provide ballast for your argument and also help shape the specifics of your digital transformation.

Ensure the transformation has a clear purpose

Don’t think of the transformation as a singular event that once achieved can be ticked off.

The modern workplace will continue to evolve and throw both opportunities and challenges at businesses. The best way to ensure your business case stays relevant and robust is to focus on purpose.

“Make sure the project has a clear purpose and maps to strategic vision and values of the organisation,” advises Paul Woods. “There should be a clear alignment between business strategy and the purpose of the modern workplace.”

Tom Hiscutt agrees and also argues that you don’t need to develop a hugely complex business case in every instance:

“The modern workplace is not something to be implemented as a singular project. It’s a journey that organisations are on and you can start that journey in a number of ways. One way is a proof of concept and proving the value of new technology and new ways of working. You don’t necessarily need to articulate your business case – it can simply be a small improvement to an individual project – or a continuous improvement to a service product or function.”

Articulate what success looks like

Of course it’s fine to have specific goals you are aiming to achieve such as employee retention or improved compliance.

But don’t get too bogged down in how that should come about and what the solution should be. It’s extremely important to keep an agile approach to digital transformation.

“Don’t over-engineer the solution,” warns Dougall McBurnie. “The business will get value if you allow the platform to grow organically. Deliver it via an agile approach with strong business leadership, communicating the value being generated and ensure complete transparency for all stakeholders.”

Get help where you need it

It’s not always easy to marry your business goals with what tech can do, or to find the right language to use. We find it quite common to observe a disconnect between people’s own consumer experience and their understanding of how to effect change in the workplace.

“C-level are not quite sure what it possible,” explains Paul Woods. “They can struggle to connect the dots and how the transformation impacts the KPI. For example how does a modern workplace improve safety of the workers?”

This is why it can be valuable to partner with an external team whose bread and butter is modern workplaces. They can fast track processes and help you identify more quickly areas of impact and potential within your organisation.

Tom Hiscutt adds:

“You can lean on Microsoft, your Microsoft account manager or tech partners who are typically more than happy to assist. They can provide supporting material and give examples of what other organisations are doing.”

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