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A great business use case delivers tangible value to the enterprise, and it should never be started unless the stakeholders involved can visualize in advance what the benefits are going to be. Visualization is never a given. Instead, it must be established by a persuasive argument for an IT investment into the proposed use case, and this persuasion often involves data storytelling.

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The goal of storytelling is to present the use case and to convincingly demonstrate the benefits that it will produce. The people presenting the use case must be knowledgeable about the business and about systems, and the stakeholders must trust the presenters’ knowledge and recommendations.

In IT, it is often the business analyst who is tasked to present the use case. The analyst teams with an expert from the business side. The challenge for most business analysts when they are placed in this role is that there is no formal training for developing a business use case and presentation, nor for using storytelling. Universities don’t teach it, and IT doesn’t train it.

Fortunately there are several guidelines for preparing a persuasive and compelling use case that can be shared.

  1. Be succinct and persuasive.
  2. Focus on the business problem to be solved and what solving it can mean for the company.
  3. Present a compelling use case that stakeholders can visualize as solving the problem.

Here’s an example of a successful use case

The following is an example of how an effective business use case can be built with the help of a storytelling business narrative:

A bank on a semi-annual basis initiates a marketing campaign to obtain more customer credit card accounts. The goal is to build income in the bank’s loan portfolio from the interest customers pay on credit cards.

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The bank promotes the program through advertising and mail. Tellers in the branches are trained to cross-sell the credit cards to customers and are rewarded with bonuses based upon the number of credit card accounts they open.

The campaign meets its goals, and management is happy, but someone in the lending back office notices that months after the promotion ends, about one-third of the accounts that were opened are dormant because they show no activity.

Dormant accounts were off management’s and marketing’s radar because everyone was focused on opening new accounts, but there is a compelling business use case in dormant accounts that the back office and the IT business analyst assigned to finance: What if these one-third of open credit card accounts that are inactive start getting used and begin contributing to bank income?

This then becomes the business storytelling narrative that the analyst and the back-office expert develop a business use case for. The message is that the company is leaving money on the table by not going after these inactive accounts. Why aren’t the accounts being used? Since the average credit card holder carries more than one credit card, are other credit cards offering more?

Based on historical information that the bank has, the business use case team calculates the potential monthly income that the bank could gain if this one-third of inactive credit card accounts became active. The team explains that to encourage use, marketing will first have to use analytics to determine why customers are using other credit cards and what it’s going to take to convince these customers to use the bank’s cards. Tellers and others in customer-facing positions will also have to be cross-trained to present offers to holders of credit cards that aren’t being used. For this to happen, the system must be modified so it delivers a pop-up message on a screen to prompt the teller whenever a customer account is accessed that has an inactive card.

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All of this will require modifications to systems and business processes—and the development of new analytics applications that can assess the local credit card market and determine which incentives and features are needed to make the bank’s cards more attractive.

Management likes the idea and gives the go-ahead to develop the needed systems and business processes.

Why it worked

What was critical in his example was that both the business analyst and the expert user focused on a business pain point that management could visualize, and that was costing the company an income opportunity. To eliminate the pain point, systems and business processes needed to be developed, and management agreed.

None of this could have happened without identifying the pain point first and then building a business story-narrative about how system and business process changes could solve it.