Robin Neidorf FreePint and BST America Explore the ABCs of ROI
Jinfo Blog

Monday, 22nd April 2013

By Robin Neidorf


Measuring value and return on investment of content purchases is undeniably important but the metrics are difficult to pin down. Robin Neidorf introduces FreePint's new Webinar series, Identifying and Measuring Value, where a number of interactive sessions will focus on understanding, measuring and reporting on the value and ROI of content purchase.


Because I talk with a lot of information managers about what's on their minds, I'm in a good position to pick up on common themes that cut across industries, international borders and corporate cultures. Consultants like Bill Noorlander of BST America are in a similar position; through his consulting practice, Bill gathers input on a range of issues and topics and can pick out the commonalities.

When Bill and I compare notes and find broad areas of overlap, we know that we've identified an issue with which a lot of information managers struggle.

That's why when Bill and I spoke recently about areas of concern, the topic of measuring value and ROI of content investments caught our attention. We first visited this topic together at the SLA Annual Conference in 2012, when Bill sat on a panel I moderated for the Leadership and Management Division. The panel provided a range of perspectives from vendors and content buyers about ROI and value. Although we had lively discussion amongst the panellists during preparation and with the audience during the session, we came to few actionable conclusions in the process.

Since that panel discussion, I've paid close attention when the topic of ROI and measuring value has come up in customer conversations. The frustrations commonly aired are these:

Fuzzy Logic

The money invested in a content product can result in a number of different types of benefits:

  • Increase in sales or other top line results
  • Improved efficiency or other bottom line impacts
  • Risk reduction, or preventing mis-steps from negatively impacting business operations and results.

These are high-level benefits that most stakeholders in the business would agree are essential, and yet are extremely difficult to tie directly to specific content products.

However, there are more immediate benefits that are closer to the point of contact with the product:

  • Improved worker efficiency
  • Improved worker skills and knowledge
  • Access to up-to-date, reliable information
  • More informed decision-making

... and so on. These too are likely to be acceptable proxies for measuring the ROI of content investments to most stakeholders. However, they are nearly as difficult to tie to specific measures that drive a business forward.

True, there are ways to calculate time saved through better skills, efficiency or immediate access to information, and then multiply that by an hourly wage. But that still requires a mental leap from the cost of a product to the soft savings it achieves. And what happens when the benefit is achieved through reliance on a portfolio of tools, with different prices, content sets and use patterns? How do you allocate the outcomes against the investments?

Lack of Agreed-To Standards

Furthermore, there is little agreement as to which of these benefits is the right one to measure, on which to base ROI. Any or all of them might be appropriate, depending on the product in question, the workers using it or who is asking the question. The CFO may define "value" one way, whilst the VP of Business Development might define it according to a completely different set of standards. 

Product vendors often have their own ways of communicating and demonstrating the value realised by their customers. Their reporting systems may be tuned to those assumptions and make it difficult for customers to extract information based on any other assumptions.

Usage Statistics Are Not the Answer

If there's one thing that everyone agrees on, it's that usage statistics alone are hardly the answer (though they can be a helpful starting point).

So How Do We Begin?

To help members of our industry think and work together on this challenging question of ROI, Bill and I are collaborating on a series of FreePint Webinars to be offered throughout 2013. These are designed to be working sessions on understanding, measuring and reporting on the value and ROI of content purchases. We're working with thoughtful information managers at organisations in the US, UK and Europe to present examples, talk through the internal challenges and provide participants with hands-on tools they can use before, during and after the sessions to assist their own organisations through value exercises.

Unlike most FreePint Webinars, which are sponsored by vendors and thus available at no charge, the Webinar Series: Identifying and Measuring Value will be offered on a paid registration basis, with seating limited to ensure all participants get maximum value from their own investment.

More information about the four sessions, including dates and times, pricing and a registration form, can be found here.

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