Advice and Information for Finance Professionals

How to Create a Compelling Executive Summary for Cloud ERP

Guest Author

By Jim Maholic

This post is the tenth in a series of articles excerpted and adapted from my award-winning and Amazon Top 10 book, Business Cases that Mean Business (details on the book below). 


This series is focused on building business cases for transformational cloud ERP initiatives by aligning projected future capabilities to core business drivers. We’re in the middle of unpacking the four components of a successful business case, which are:

  • Hypothesis
  • Evidence
  • Analysis
  • Recommendation

In the next article I will present a complete Table of Contents for a thorough and successful presentation. Of all those components, the Executive Summary is the most important slide in your business case presentation. If you create it following these guidelines, you will have summarized your entire business case on a single slide. 

The value of a great executive summary

I have presented scores of business cases to senior executives. Many of my successful presentations have not moved past the Executive Summary. That statement might surprise you. Here’s why this is so successful: executives are very busy; they often have multiple things competing for their time; they want to get straight to the point without wasting time. Even if they agree to a two-hour meeting, it is unlikely that you will be able to hold their rapt attention for two solid hours. They will be checking their smartphones, possibly handling email, and mentally checking out as they ponder other upcoming issues. To hold their attention, you need to state your case and make your most compelling argument early in the presentation.

The best Executive Summaries are limited to a single slide and contain a select few bullet points that summarize the most important points of the business case. This slide is to be built with careful thought and deliberation. At its most basic and concise level, the Executive Summary should address six issues:

  • What is the problem you believe needs to be solved? 
  • How did you determine that this problem was more than just a mere annoyance?
  • What is the compelling justification (primarily financial benefit) that the company gets by solving that problem?
  • How long will it take to begin realizing value (or benefits) from this proposal? 
  • How much will it cost?
  • What do you want the approvers to do? 

Answering those questions upfront on the executive summary slide will accelerate and focus the discussion on the most important points of your business case. If time permits and if interest exists, you can then march through the other slides in the body of your presentation.

It’s best to build this slide after you have created the body of your presentation. By building this slide last, you can evaluate the content from your other slides to pick and choose the most relevant items to include on this slide. Furthermore, building this slide after you have crafted your full presentation ensures that your Executive Summary will accurately summarize and align with the slides that follow.

State the costs up front

Though many resist this next recommendation, I urge you to include the cost of your proposal on this slide. Executives will want to know the cost at the outset. If you elect to not include it on this slide, many of your assembled approvers will begin thumbing through your presentation to find the cost. That is very disruptive to the flow of your presentation. We’re all adults here. No need to play games and bury the cost numbers deep in the presentation hoping that your sheer cleverness will make a weak business case somehow acceptable. At this stage of your business case development, you must be confident that your business case is sound and that the costs are offset by credible benefits that justify the project.

An effective Executive Summary distills the body of your presentation down to a single slide so that your approvers can get a concise view of the primary considerations within a few short minutes (while their attention and focus are highest). Here’s an example:

  • We have identified several costly inefficiencies in our period-end consolidation and close processes.
  • We have a recommendation to solve those issues, and the recommendation includes the investment in cloud subscriptions and consulting services, as well as select changes in our internal business processes.
  • We have determined that addressing those challenges as proposed here will yield a 5-year benefit of $22.5 million.
  • The cost of the proposed project is $6.3 million over five years.
  • Our plans include rolling this out over the next six months to all locations.
  • With your approval, we’d like to get started as soon as possible.

That is a crisp, concise Executive Summary. From this summary, you can expect a thorough question-and-answer session. Those questions likely compel you to show other slides in your presentation. So, all of your effort in building the presentation is not lost nor wasted.

The final edit and trimming

Subject your Executive Summary to a final review and word-trimming. Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Crisp, concise, easy-to-understand bullet points make for a compelling Executive Summary. The final result of your edited Executive Summary might produce something like this:

  • Our period-end closing processes struggle under the weight of costly inefficiencies
  • Recommendation: Oracle’s cloud-based ERP and EPM solutions
  • Benefits: The proposed solution delivers $22.5 million over five years
  • Costs: The proposed solution costs $6.3 million over five years
  • Timing: Rollout to all locations over next six months
  • Next Steps: Seeking your approval to move forward immediately

With this tight, single-page Executive Summary, your approvers are armed from the start. Some executives may then patiently permit you to walk through your slides in sequence. Other executives may ask you to explain one or more bullet points and not want to follow your sequence. Either way, all of the assembled approvers will know the crux of your proposal, your estimated benefits and what action you want them to take—and your audience is ready to hear more about the details of your proposal. 

Up next, bringing all of the pieces together to package and present your business case.

If you missed the previous post in this series, you can find it here: “Getting Buy-In is Key to Business Case Success.”

This post is the tenth in a series of twelve articles excerpted and adapted from my award-winning and Amazon Top 10 book, Business Cases that Mean Business.

Developing a business case is simply the identification, calculation and communication of the value of your proposed capital expenditure. Creating a sound business case should not be intimidating. You simply must approach the development of a business case with discipline and ample planning. This series of articles will give you an overview of the creation of a successful business case. If you wish to explore this topic deeper, or just jump ahead right away, check out my book.

Be the first to comment

Comments ( 0 )
Please enter your name.Please provide a valid email address.Please enter a comment.CAPTCHA challenge response provided was incorrect. Please try again.