Our series on Business Intelligence ROI has explored the importance of ROI for BI projects, provided examples of the types of BI projects that never pay off, and evaluated the methodology for calculating BI ROI. We saw that if a project has measurable returns it is more likely to get off the ground and get you acceptance for future BI projects.
Many of you who are tasked to calculate the ROI of your BI projects were never taught such a thing in school, so let’s break down another element that will help you do your calculations: types of return. Here are 5 types you should evaluate:
1. Revenue enhancement
Simply put, your organization will generate more money as a result of doing your project. Shareholders appreciate these types of projects – you’re reaching the right group of customers who see value in your project – and are willing to pay.
An example of this type of ROI would be one of arcplan’s grocery chain customers – their arcplan BI solution ties together three separate IT systems (one for sales, one for ordering, and one for inventory) and allows them to get a handle on inventory shrink (the loss of products between the point of manufacture and the point of sale…think brown lettuce or rotten tomatoes). arcplan allows the right people to see how many tomatoes are stocked in stores, how many are coming in from the warehouse, and how many are selling. The system allows the grocery stores to sell more tomatoes since they have better-looking inventory and less rotten tomatoes since they’re only ordering the amount they need in each store.
2. Revenue enhancement/margin protection
This means that your organization will increase profits through better efficiency. This does not necessarily mean more revenue but just higher profitability as a result of streamlining your current process.
The grocery store example from above also fits this type of ROI. The same shrink avoidance system allows stores to not only sell more tomatoes, but also to throw out less, thus protecting their profits (less shrink = more profit).
Just as you can’t drive to work with your eyes only on the rearview mirror, you can’t drive your business forward by focusing on the past. Yet that’s what you’re doing if you’re relying solely on lagging indicators such as revenue, profit, or Cost of Goods Sold (CoGS) to manage your organization’s performance. These factors are important, but once they’re calculated, it’s too late to impact them. What you need are good leading indicators that allow you to spot trends and see issues before they balloon into real problems.
Leading vs. Lagging Indicators
Leading indicators are early predictors of sales and profit, and in combination with lagging indicators, they give you a holistic view of your company’s performance. Lagging indicators such as revenue, sales, expenses, and inventory turnover help you understand whether or not certain objectives have been met. They can depict trends when periods are compared, but by then, you’re too late to profit from the early discovery of the trend. Lagging indicators are calculated at the end of a period (month, quarter, etc.), so you won’t know whether or not a goal has been met until nearly the end of the period. Even if you run some ad-hoc reports throughout the period, you likely can’t get to the root of a problem in time to impact the outcome. Chances are, things were going wrong long before the lagging indicator on your dashboard turned yellow.
On the other hand, leading indicators pinpoint the source of future problems and help you predict whether or not the target values for your lagging indicators will be met. Leading indicators enable your company to avoid problems and operate more cost-effectively. For example, rather than tracking product returns (a lagging indicator), reporting a 90-day customer complaint trend allows you to fix problems earlier and less expensively. Drilling down into the complaints themselves, you might discover that a particular product has a defect that your quality assurance team didn’t catch. Removing the product from your shelves may save you a lot of trouble in the long-run, reducing complaints (and the negative feelings your customers may be starting to harbor toward you) as well as the cost of returns (returns aren’t free – they cost retailers nearly $14 billion a year).
Tracking receivables turnover (a leading indicator) enables the company to better manage its cash (a lagging indicator).