Cost savings are usually important to small businesses even in the best of times. New technology solutions may be necessary for survival and growth, however—and they may not be as expensive as you think when you consider their return on investment (ROI). In this four-part series, we’ll explain what ROI is, help you understand indirect ROI, and provide guidelines for predicting and measuring the ROI of a technology investment.
Part 4: Measuring ROI
If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already learned what ROI is and how you can use it to make sure your technology implementations are profitable. But the process doesn’t stop there: it’s important, once you’ve implemented a new technology solution, to track its benefits.
There are many direct and indirect benefits of implementing new technology, as we’ve described—but in most cases, companies don’t know what they are.
In many cases, what you measure is clear. Consider a service company that implements customer service software designed to help phone representatives more quickly resolve customer issues. To determine ROI, the company simply measures the number of calls per employee before and after implementing the software.
In other cases, companies don’t measure what we call the relevant “value drivers.” Some companies don’t know what to measure; others know what to measure but don’t know how to do it. The end result: only 17 percent of CFOs measure ROI for outsourcing projects, according to Hewitt Associates.
As an example of how this could happen, consider a manufacturing company that implements software designed to reduce errors in a product line, thereby improving quality. While the company may be tracking the increase in quality (in the form of fewer returned goods, for example), it may not be considering other value drivers. How about waste? We can assume that quality has improved, fewer products have been scrapped—but the company doesn’t have a business process in place that can track costs incurred from waste.
How do you identify value drivers? Follow the workflow. IT will always impact your business processes in some way. For example, it might eliminate, create, or change a business process. So to identify value drivers, look at the results you hope to achieve from these business process changes.
As an example, consider the service company we referenced previously. As a result of its new customer service software, the company might reduce its customer service employees from five to four. This change in business process shows that one value driver is the reduction in labor costs due to increased efficiency, resulting in a direct ROI. Another value driver might be improved customer service, resulting in an indirect ROI.
As another example, consider a company that implements software to track employee performance against objectives. In the past, it has paid bonuses randomly; now it has a methodology. This change in business process shows that one value driver is the savings in bonuses not paid due to non-performance, resulting in a direct ROI. Another value driver might be improved employee morale and effort, resulting in an indirect ROI.
Generally, a year of data collection should be sufficient to determine the changes in costs and revenues that will drive both direct and indirect ROI, providing you with solid data to determine just how effective your IT investment has been.