is Cost-Benefit Analysis? Definition
Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is the weighing-scale approach for decision-making.
All the positive elements (cash-flows
and other intangible benefits) are put on one side of the balance and all
the negative elements (the costs and disadvantages) are put on the other.
Whichever weighs the heavier wins.
Example of a Cost-Benefit Analysis
A company that would like to buy
Business Intelligence software
to improve its business might use a CBA to make up its mind.
On the minus (cost) side would be:
- the price of the software,
- the cost of consultants to install and implement the software, and
- the cost of training for the users of the software.
However on the plus (benefits) side would be:
- improved business processes (leading to an annual cost decrease),
- due to better available information, the company will be able to take
better decisions (leading to additional cash-flows), and
- increased staff moral, due to using these modern tools to support the
Mistakes and Problems with Cost-Benefit Analysis
- A frequently made mistake in the CBA method is to use non-discounted
amounts for calculating the costs and benefits. A method like
NPV or Economic
Value Added or CFROI is strongly recommended,
because all of these account for the time value
- A frequent problem with CBA is that typically the costs are tangible,
hard and financial, while the benefits are hard and tangible, but also soft
and intangible. Caution should be taken here against people who claim
that "if you can't measure it does not exist / it has no value".
- Especially in more strategic investments, frequently the intangible
benefits clearly outweigh the financial benefits.
- Risk must often be considered as a factor in making the decision.
History of Cost Benefit Analysis
The idea of this methodology originated with Jules Dupuit, a French
engineer whose 1848 article is still worth reading. The British economist,
Alfred Marshall, conceived some of the formal concepts that are at
the foundation of CBA. But the practical development of CBA came as a result
of the impetus provided by the Federal Navigation Act of 1936. This
act required that the U.S. Corps of Engineers carry out projects for the improvement
of the waterway system when the total benefits of a project exceed the costs
of that project. Thus, the Corps of Engineers had create systematic methods
for measuring such benefits and costs. The engineers of the Corps did this
without much assistance from the economics profession. It wasn't until about
twenty years later in the 1950s that economists tried to provide a rigorous,
consistent set of methods for measuring benefits and costs and deciding whether
a project is worthwhile.
Book: Anthony E. Boardman - Cost-Benefit Analysis: Concepts and
Practice (2nd Edition) -
Book: Henry M. Levin, Patrick J. McEwan - Cost-Effectiveness
Analysis : Methods and Applications -
||Business Case for Improving Engineering Project Management
"I would like to know if there is a special way to handle business cases while selling solutions that will help improving engineering project management effectiveness in the energy sector and more specifically in oil and gas, nuclear, etc."
||Using CBA For De/Centralization of Telesales Unit
"I would like to know is it the good method to use CBA when we want to make decision for centralized or decentralized our telesales unit? Current condition of telesales unit is decentralization without any CRM/sales force system and we plan to buy sales force system to increase time efficiency and sales. I have to make decision whether we should implement centralization or decentralization for telesales unit."
||CBA of Labor Efficiency Incentive Program
"What are on the + and - side for this type of analysis?
I envision the program to be a $ savings sharing program where employees who increase their efficiency up to a certain point get a % of the savings. We will have a costs savings and an opportunity savings portion to how we come up with the total savings.
Does anyone have experience with this kind of implementation in the service industry that wouldn't mind me picking their brain?"
||Efficiency of Cost-Benefit Analysis
"I think CBA is a easy good method to use, but one should integrate it with other methods in order to meet efficiency. Also if one is aware of the risks of using CBA, one is in better position to use it productively based on the fact that it is a very open approach. The user is allowed to apply it everywhere but in line with his or her situation, there is no standardised variables."
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Compare with Cost-Benefit Analysis:
Total Cost of Ownership |
Net Present Value |
Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) |
Free Cash Flow |
| Payback Period
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