Category Archives: Business

The Short Horizon

As the pace of business continues to accelerate, there seems to be one aspect of the business process model that is struggling to keep up: The Business Case. There was a time where capital expenditures were looked upon as long term investments by the business. The life-cycle and pay-back processes, as well as the accounting amortization of these investments, were expected to last years, and in some instances, even decades. The average business case became attuned to these norms.

But those days are long gone. As the speed with which technology has changed has continued, by necessity the business case used to justify the new or incremental investment has needed to become shorter. If Moore’s law of eighteen-month capability doubling (it was actually Intel executive David House, who predicted that chip performance would double every 18 months. Gordon Moore, for whom the law is named, was the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, and whose 1965 paper described a doubling every two years in the number of transistors per integrated circuit was the basis for the coining of the “law”) is to be believed, then the asymptote for the length of an acceptable business case should approach that eighteen month to two year limit as well.

That doesn’t mean that a product’s useful life is only limited to eighteen months. I think quite the contrary. There are aspects of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that have been in place for more than fifty years, and are still providing beneficial service to the communications carriers and their subscribers alike.

On the other hand, people are known to line up and over-night camp out every eighteen to twenty-four months in order to be the first to get the next generation of the Apple iPhone.

It appears that customers who are being asked for either capital or operational expenditures associated with technology oriented products, are driving their partners and their vendors to ever more rigorous and aggressive value propositions and rates of return. This is the genesis of the short horizon business case.

The simplest definition of value is how much money is made or saved over what period of time. The more you make, or the more you save over a given period, the better the value. In the past it was acceptable for a business case to extend out over a long enough time period as to show an acceptable return. If the initial business case for the sale didn’t make sense for one period of time, it was easy just to lengthen out the time frame until it did.

What appears to be happening is that as the rate of technological based product change has continued at the speed of Moore’s Law, the period that a customer is willing to measure value has shrunk. Business cases still need to show the customer value, they now must do it in far less time. The tried and true form of extending the business case period to make the value and pay back equations work is now gone. Customers will no longer accept it, and are driving for shorter and shorter review periods.

I think there are several factors in addition to technical obsolescence that are helping to drive a short horizon on the business case:

As each new generation of technology arrives it almost exponentially drives down the (residual) value of previous generations. I think it is no secret that one generation old technology is viewed as old and disadvantaged, and that two-generation old technology is probably approaching the zero value state. We have all seen this in our consumer based technology purchases as well. Products get old so quickly that we have developed a disposable attitude toward them. With Personal computers now going for a few hundred dollars, what is the value of a two-generation old computer? What was once repaired and retained is now simply expected to be replaced.

How would consumers (and manufacturers) react if the same logic was applied to say, automobiles and two to three model year old car was considered almost valueless?

We also see (comparatively) decreasing operational returns as each new technology generation is introduced. This means that as each new product gets smaller and more efficient the value of generating operational savings associated with the previous generation of product also tends to get devalued.

The idea of saving something with what you have is not as attractive as the possibility of saving more with something new. I guess this is what they call “Marketing”.

I think one of the final evolution’s of the short horizon business case is the “Cloud”. I am sure everyone has heard of this thing. It’s in all the magazines.

One of the many ways that manufacturers and vendors have adapted to the evolving business case rules is to try and remove both the obsolescence associated with technology and to more closely align the delivered solution with the customer’s need. The idea being that if a customer only needs a four-unit solution but the technology only comes in six or eight unit increments, there is a delivered solution miss-match.

By delivering a function from the cloud as opposed to a product based solution, the vendor has effectively removed technology obsolescence from the customer’s decision process, as well as matched the required amount of solution with the required amount of need.

The net result is a much shorter period needed to achieve the required business case. Customer purchases can be made in smaller increments, which in turn only require smaller pay-backs. Future product purchases and existing product obsolescence are removed from the customer’s decision criteria as the customer is now only purchasing the product’s function, not the product itself. The obsolescence issue, and all the other costs associated with operation of the product are now retained by the vendor (and should be built into their business case).

The continued drive for more value has driven customers and business cases to the short horizon. Capital for technology can no longer be viewed as a long-term investment. It must be judged and justified by how quickly it can pay back on its cost and the relative business value it generates. It is this drive for better business returns that continues to reduce the time scale associated with the business case.

This trend would appear to potentially be a seed cause for future changes to the way business is conducted. On one hand it will continue to make the sale of capital based technology products more difficult. By demanding shorter pay-back and business case periods, customers are in essence expecting lower prices for products, and higher value delivered. That is a demanding and difficult environment for any supplier.

It should also continue to drive product virtualization and the Cloud as ways for suppliers to retain costs and risks, and hence remove them from the customer’s business case. This will continue to be an interesting market, but not all technologies and products may be potential candidates for the cloud.

It could also be argued that a potentially unexpected result of the drive to align business cases with product life cycles could be the reversal of Moore’s Law. It has long been expected that there is some sort of limit to the capacity doubling process. It has been going on for over fifty years. There are recent articles in no less than the MIT Technology Review, Ars Technica, and The Economist (to name just a few) that are now stating that Moore’s Law have in fact run its course.

And this may also be of benefit to business. If customers want to align their capital business case length with the product’s life cycle, and the current eighteen to twenty-four month life cycle of the product makes this increasingly difficult, then one of the solutions may be to lengthen the product life cycle to more than twenty-four months. If there truly is a link between business case length and product life cycle, then this could be a possible solution.

This will be an interesting cause and effect discussion. Is the potential slowing of Moore’s Law going to cause the reversing of the short horizon trend associated with customer’s business cases, or is the demand for short horizon business cases going to accelerate the slowing of Moore’s Law due to business necessities? Either way, customers are requiring businesses to change the way they put together the business case for capital technology sales, and that is having a significant effect on how business can successfully get done.

Business Cases

“My mind is aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention. My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives…”

(Hedley (not Hedy) Lamarr in Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”.)

Ditto.
Extra points if you knew who said that as well as who uttered the response.

I seem to have costs on my mind (as well as a lot of other things, apparently) these days. I didn’t know what I wanted to address in this posting: Cost Reduction, Business Cases, Business Predictability all seemed to have been foremost in my mind among the possible group of posting topics. It seemed like the best thing to do was get started and see where it went. It went to “Blazing Saddles”. I don’t know if it is recoverable from there, but I will try.

Since this is nominally a Business Blog, and I did at least tangentially address cost reduction as one of the primary growth industries in business in my last posting, I think that I will head over into business cases. However, do not lament the transition away from cost reduction entirely, as costs do play an important role in the creation of any good business case.

It appears that creating or generating a really good business case is becoming a lost art. Coming up with an idea, specifying the investment parameters, analyzing the markets and demands, and ultimately defining the returns and value to the company are some of the building blocks of a successful business. It is a rigorous process (and it should be) because it deals with the lifeblood of the business – money.

This is not going to be some sort of a “how to” do a business case primer. It’s more about what they are and why they’re needed. Simply put, a business case is the justification package that you put together when you want the company or organization to invest in something. This is a very high level definition. The “something” to be invested in can be almost anything: research and development for new products, production automation equipment to reduce the labor component associated with manufacturing, additional sales people in an effort to expand the addressable market and grow sales, are just a few of the fun ones that come to mind.

Business cases are all about what the company should invest in. Investing is all about money, specifically when you spend it, how much of it you spend, when you get it back and how much more of it you get back. Businesses are in business to make money. Like every good investor, when money is spent or invested, a return is expected on that money or investment. If that does not seem to be the case, then the business case process has probably broken down.

I do not claim to be a business case guru. I have put several of them together and have found a few topics that I look for in every good business case. If you want to find out all that should be included in a business case, just Google “Business Case Template”. I think you will get a little more than eight million results.

In my experience, every good business case should have the following three major components:

What is it that is wanted?
What are you asking for and how much is it going to cost? Every business case is about asking for money. In the examples I cited above you would be asking for a specific amount of money for either research and development (people, lab space, lab equipment, etc.), money for manufacturing equipment for automated production, or money for salaries for incremental sales people. This amount is known as the investment.

What is it that you get for the money?
Why would the organization or business want to give you this money? What are they going to get in return? If it is for research and development, what products are they going to get and how will they positively affect the growth of the company. If it is for an automated production line, how much are production costs going to be decreased. If it is for additional sales people, how much are sales going to increase.

When do they get their money back?
No, the organization is not “giving” you money. Think of it as a loan. Every loan needs to be paid back, with interest. This interest is usually in the form of increased profits for the company, either in the form of margins from increased sales or reduced costs. If you don’t believe me on this repayment with interest thing, just ask the bank or financing company the next time you want to invest in a car or house. I think they will be quite specific regarding the interest you will be paying on the loan and the expected repayment schedule that they will require you to comply with. This money that is given back to the company is known as the return on investment.

Business Case Tip #1.
One of the guiding principles of a good business case is that the return on investment should be greater than the investment itself was.

I don’t think there are many (any?) other business case tips that can be given that have the same importance as this one. A proper business case requests a specific amount of money. It defines what the money will be used for (spent on). It specifies what will be produced (new products, cost reductions, increased sales, etc.). It also forecasts when and how much the returns will be. It is all about the numbers.

It is this last part which is especially important. When are they going to get their money back. It is during this discussion when you may hear a term such as “pay-back”. Pay-back is when they get all of their original investment back. This is the break-even point. After this, everything that is returned to the company is a benefit or profit.

Business Case Tip #2
No matter how soon or how quickly the business case hits the “pay-back” point, it will not be soon enough.

Contrary to what some may believe, money in a company is not free. A company must pay for its money, one way or the other. A company can fund a business case investment via either debt or equity financing. In debt financing it is the interest and overheads that it must pay on the loan (debt) it takes out to get the money. In equity financing it is the relative risk and return it must pay in the form of stock appreciation or dividends to the equity investor in order to attract them. This is called “the cost of capital”. It is in effect the interest or discount rate that the company must use in the business case when it looks at the future returns on its investment.

The longer it takes to reach pay back to the company, the more the amount of discount that is applied to the return. The greater the discount, the more difficult it should be to make the business case work.

Remember that there is a limited amount of investment money that is available to any company. There is only so much that the company can borrow before the financial position of the company is adversely affected by its debt position and only so much stock that can be issued before the market adversely affects the equity price and expectation for the stock.

There are also other businesses and organizations within the company that would like to invest in their opportunities as well. That will create a competition for those investment funds. So how should the company decide where to invest?

There are usually two instances where a company will invest. One of the easiest is to invest only in those business cases that provide the greatest return on the investment. That would be those opportunities that have the best business cases. You have just seen above what should be expected at a high level for a good business case.

The second place that a company usually invests is in those strategic initiatives that may not provide the best return but are required for the long term health of the company. What are these strategic initiatives you may ask? That’s a good question. I have found business cases to try to define themselves as a strategic initiative when they contain a request for funding that does not show a reasonable return on the requested investment.

That’s probably not entirely true. There are investments for things such as core technologies that other products are built from that could be defined as strategic (among the many others of this type) as well as initiatives outside of the financially definable realm such as the reduction of carbon footprints or diversity that may not contribute directly to the financial well being of the company, but should be done none the less for the greater good of the company.

Companies expect and need to make money. Otherwise they normally do not get to remain companies for very long. I think a great deal of any company’s success can probably be attributed to how strong their business case process is, and how well they adhere to it. Having people who understand what a good business case is can go a long way to attaining that success.

Feeling Inferior

I like to read. My son says he would prefer to wait for the movie. Any movie. Seeing as how he is still only fifteen years old, I don’t think that there is much that I can do about that right now. What I can do is control what I read. I was under the misguided idea that occasionally I should read articles, magazines and books written by and for successful people, who like to tell us other presumably less successful people what we should do to become more successful, just like them.

I don’t think I am going to do this anymore.

Every time I read one of these success missives, I can’t help but feel inferior. It has a tendency to either depress me or drive me nuts.

I’ll demonstrate by example:

I got an email notification that my college alma mater (of all things) “liked” an article on one of those professional networking sites. I take being a mighty Lobo alumnus of the University of New Mexico very seriously so I thought it best to go check out what my alma mater deemed important enough to actually like. I clicked on the link in the notification.

Via the magic of the internet I was immediately whisked to the site of some business and technology e-zine with the appropriately titled article (and I am paraphrasing here as I don’t wish to have to provide attribution)

“27 Things that People Who Are More Successful Than You Do Every Day – Including Weekends – Before They Leave Work, That You Probably Don’t Do Which Explains Why They Are Successful And You Aren’t”

You would be surprised how close to the real title that paraphrase is.

As I said, I like to read. I read for information and enjoyment. I also believe it is something of a dying art. I mean why read when you can text or IM or as my son does, watch the movie anyway? But that is not the point. The point here is that I was already at the site. I consider myself to be reasonably successful. I have not ruled the world but I have done moderately okay. I figured I would peruse the first few topics of the list of successful attributes purely out of self interest and compare what the list said successful people do with what I do and see how much similarity there was.

Big mistake.

After furiously reading through the entire list with ever increasing disbelief to see if there was anything at all that I did at the end of the day that even remotely resembled something that a successful person was purported to have done at the end of the day, I came to the crushing conclusion that I am not fit to leave work at the end of the day, let alone work anywhere.

In case some of you have not experienced the joy that accompanies an epiphany that springs from reading an article like this, let me provide an example as a means of explanation. Most of us know how to sign our names. There are probably a few of us who don’t, and due to the penmanship challenges associated with the inability to sign their name these people are hence genetically selected to become doctors. Over time we have all probably evolved our “signature”.

Now take the pen that you normally sign your name with, put in the other hand (the hand that normally holds the paper while the first hand signs your signature) and now be told that all successful people are ambidextrous and in order for you too to be considered successful you should immediately be able to use that other hand to sign your signature as quickly, clearly and effortlessly as the first hand.

Give it a try. See how that works for you.

You now have only the slightest of inklings how it feels to read these articles about the habits, traits, customs, manners, dispositions, styles, fashions, penchants and proclivities of successful business people.

It depresses me that I don’t seem to have any resemblance at all to these so called successful people. It depresses me that I don’t spring out of bed at four o’clock in the morning prepared to shampoo the dog and rotate the tires on my wife’s car, and jog six or eight miles while thinking great world changing thoughts, all before going into the office like successful people are being depicted as doing. I am crestfallen that I don’t seem to be the appropriate whirl wind of activity in the last ten minutes of my business day closing off to-do lists, clearing my desk while simultaneously creating a workable plan to solve world hunger as I prepare to do battle with the other presumably unsuccessful souls on my commute home from the office.

It further concerns me that almost all the people that I know that I would consider to be successful also seem to have nothing in common with the ideal successful person that these articles describe.

In the past I have discussed how happiness cannot be derived from the actions and relative performance of others. I guess the corollary here is that feelings of depression and inferiority in the office should also not be the result of the actions and relative performance of others either.

Unfortunately that approach does not seem to sell articles, magazines and books. Nor does it seem like a very good way to drive people to specific web sites where their eyeballs can be assaulted by both an article describing in detail why they should by inference not consider themselves to be successful as well as those advertisers that are on that site who have specifically tailored their self-help ads to those people who after reading the article are now feeling so insecure about their relative worth and success in business.

What this epiphany does open up to me is the idea of a new opportunity to address a whole new segment of the self help article, magazine and book market. It is the segment of the market that is for the business person that is at least in part moderately successful, and wants to feel good about what they have accomplished. Think about that for a moment. Doesn’t everyone want a little recognition, reinforcement and reaffirmation that they have in fact been doing things well?

Think about the titles for these articles, magazines and books that could be generated, based on this new and previously untapped market approach:

“From Good to Better”
“Twelve Habits of the Moderately Successful”
“Congratulations on Making it to the Office on Time”
“How to Get Back From Lunch in One Hour”
“Speakerphone Etiquette in the Cube Farm”
“The Art of Aiming Low and Meeting Your Objectives”

The list could go on and on.

I understand that in this day and age that it is hyperbole that sells. As another example, in the past it used to be enough to just report the news. Now we seem to have a never ending stream of talking heads that are associated with one end of the political spectrum or the other that are now presenting their “version” of the news. Everything now has “spin” and now screams for our attention. I think the same is now the case for the plethora of business “self help” articles, magazines and books that are vying for our attention.

Each of these new and improved lists of elements associated with success seems to be more outlandish than the previous. As I noted before, based on these items it is hard to understand how I or anyone else is or can ever be considered successful. Hence the source of my concerns over these feelings of inferiority.

I think the bottom line is that when you take everything into consideration it is still things like drive, determination, attention to detail, effort, honesty, knowledge, experience, cooperation, preparation and maybe just a smidgeon of luck that are some of the determining factors in success. These concepts are not particularly exciting and don’t promise any secret short cuts to success. Maybe that explains why there doesn’t seem to be a market for a book titled:

“Be Smart, Work Hard, Perform Well and Move Ahead”

Perhaps another answer to being considered a success is to write a book that tells other people what they should do in order to be considered a success.

A Tree in The Forest


I am sure as children we have all heard the parable “If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” No matter how you answered the question, the rejoinder was “How do you know for sure?”



The business equivalent of this parable is “If you work very hard all month, and you do not generate a monthly report of your activities, did you really do any work?” The answer to this one is a little bit simpler. If you did not document your progress and activities then in reality you didn’t do any work. If you want to argue this point, my rejoinder will be “How will management know for sure?”



I have heard many reasons and excuses for not generating a monthly report. It takes too much time. I didn’t have a great month so I don’t want to document so little progress. I had a great month so I don’t want to seam self aggrandizing. The bottom line is that there is no excuse for not generating a monthly report.



They don’t take a lot of time. If they do, you’re probably doing them wrong. Some monthly reports may be stronger than others. That is the nature of business. The fact is that a brief 1-2 page monthly report is your opportunity to capture the value that you and your team brought to the company. Businesses are focused on generated value. If you are not showing and documenting your value, how can they know what value you are to them?