‘Publishing ‘case studies’ do the IT industry no favours’ was the provocative reply when I suggested providing a case study to a prospective client. My immediate reaction was one of wondering whether I had heard his reply correctly as, with the rest of the IT industry I believed that by describing case studies we were helping clients to understand complex issues. As all IT suppliers spend a great deal of effort, to say nothing of money, if this was true then this is an alarming assertion. But the man had a good point when asked to expand on his reply, and it fits with my increasing belief that we in the IT industry have more changes going on than just the IT technology. We have to learn more about a new ‘interaction’ with our clients increasingly being described as ‘intimacy’ these days.

The first point in the explanation was that published case studies fitted the era of paper-based marketing materials where paper was the only readily available format for ‘publish and distribute’ capabilities. The format of a case study evolved to be a concise outline of how to use the product or service with the goal of creating enough interest to lead to a request to get the right people into a physical meeting to discuss the real situation. In the age when the format is ‘online’ and ‘interactive’ something different is required to move the evaluation of possibilities forward faster, and save the wasted time and effort of meeting at an early stage to ask basic questions.
The further point was that case studies were designed to suggest that there was little to no risk in implementation, which, as professional purchasing managers take a larger role, actually allowed them to further ‘commoditise’ purchases by the implication that cost was the only issue. The two points together are a frightening argument, but completely logical, and in an age where the capability to ‘publish and subscribe’ is linked to the capability to ‘interact and collaborate’ maybe it is time to change.
However surely many decision makers are – I nearly said too old – to use these new capabilities? At this point the original one-on-one discussion had enlarged to a group of around ten to twelve people with no one disagreeing, even if it was clearly a new argument for the majority. The forum was the coffee break at an industry event of approximately 130, or so, company delegates representing supply chain users in Sweden. The general agreement was that this was true, but the business case for implementation was researched, and made, by people like themselves who do use the Web as the basis for much of their research. Work with them to get their questions answered properly and the business case which the decision maker will use will be improved in favour of your company.
Does this mean the business case is dead? Not at all, there is a value in knowing that your company has gained the experience and knowledge to provide accurate answers so it’s important. Its value is more as a ‘use case’ to support the ‘interaction’, indeed it’s probably better to create the document as a use case in the first place, and add the names of companies were you have deployed as references to illustrate where you have gained the experience.
There is a further element to support this view. As we move from application centric IT where the business case would be highly recognisable due to being based on the same application to a world of ‘services’ where the focus moves to granulatisation then likelihood of a full replicable solution is decreased. Indeed as ‘services’ become the way for Business to deliver their products in a differentiated manner to their market segments then this decrease in commonality will become more marked. This in turn leads to the possibility that the decision maker driving such implementations will be more technology literate, and will use the use cases provided in this way, without using intermediary staff to research.
Adding it all up I concluded that the time to drop case studies hadn’t arrived yet, but the time to rethink their role and use probably has arrived.