One of the more interesting sessions at SLA 2009 that I attended dealt with the use of return on investment (ROI) calculations in the the special library. One of the most important things for strategic knowledge centers to do is show their value, and ROI is the way to show this to the business world. Here are the interpretations of my notes from that session.
Unfortunately there is no "magic formula" for showing value. What is important and valued at your organization is going to be different, and how that value can be shown will be different as well. You will have to consider what your management and the decision makers are looking for, and show how you are providing that added value. You may have to change what you are providing to meet there needs as well. Importantly, what your organization values can also change over time, even rapidly.
One way of showing what value you add is to show what needs would be unmet if your position or department were eliminated. This feels like the "this company would fail without me" argument, but taken in realistic terms more concrete value statements can be made.
Your department can retail to other units and locations within your organization or even outside of it. What simpler way to show financial value than to charge the company for services, or at least show that you are competitive.
You may consider adding or amending your services. Perhaps more competitive intelligence is needed in your organization? "Get out of your comfort zone" and find new things you can do with your expertise besides what you've always done before.
Show your organization how you can impact or generate new revenue streams. You can control over information - use it.
Regularly revisit what you do. You must reevaluate what you're doing and determine if it is the best use of your resources. What kind of impact is your work having on the organization? Are they aware of this impact?
Find out how your accounting department reports to management. Learn their terminology and use it. Show your utilization rate in their terms.
You have the power to research and write. You can influence customers by writing articles. Use this power wisely.
Financial people know numbers and like spreadsheets. Give them something pretty to look at. You don't have to be a financial expert to make a good looking spreadsheet that shows your value.
Knowledge professionals work best when embedded. Be a part of your organization. Integrate yourself fully.
You can add some technology to make your department visible and show off your assets. Archive RSS feeds and put it all in one email for executives. This cuts the information overload that these executives face. You can allow them to subscribe to more information and provide that value added service. Provide wikis and blogs to allow executives to share unstructured content that would usually be email. Web 2.0 is here to help you and your organization, use it.
Consider ROI reporting as an opportunity. It provides you with the opportunity to show how what you're doing affects them and the larger organization. They need to know how what you're doing will benefit them in the short term if you want to have any hope of making your long term visions happen.