Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Archive for the ‘Web2.0’ Category

SOLACE 2009

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Stormy Times for Chief Executives in Brighton

Stormy Times for Chief Executives in Brighton

This week I will be attending the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) Annual Conference in Brighton.

A lot has been happening in recent months, not least the demand that all chief executives face – do more for less.

I am interested to see how feedback from other events, such as the SOCITM Conference and Digital Britain will be demonstrated on this high power stage.

The people who attend today have the final say about what programmes for transformation stay and which ones go. ICT has a huge part to play in the future local government and I hope that the case for ICT will be put across fairly and that the delegates will have an opportunity to ask and understand how ICT will affect their authority.

If you’re around feel free to stop by and say Hi! I will be on the Digital Inclusion stand or you can follow me on twitter. Some of us will be trying to give live feedback using the twitter hashtag #solace09.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 20, 2009 at 8:32 am

What will Council 2.0 look like?

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In the last few months Social Media has exploded. Newer tools such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace have now been fighting for space in the corporate boardroom alongside blogs and traditional web-pages.

Different organisations take a variety of approaches as to when new technology should be implemented. These can be summarised by the innovation adoption curve…

The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true.

As social media is re-writing the rule book about engaging with customers a pro-active area is that of local Government engaging with citizens. Work from the IDEA and others in their wiki have been trying to understand the problems and how the solutions can be used to deliver them.

I want this to go to the next stage. Social media is changing the way that we live our lives and so we need to adapt our working practices to meet the way that the world is turning, this goes for Local Government too. My question is: how will Local Government change to meet the expectations of how citizens will expect to interact with their council?

Councillors have traditionally represented the electorate by being voted on to the Council. The council is then split into portfolios to enable a broad coverage and public representation of the issues affecting citizens. The portfolios then act as governance for the various departments within the Council, ensuring that any plans represent best value, deliver required services and the needs of the citizen are met.

With the growth of social media resulting in a reduction of the formality required to interact with anyone, how should councillors change their traditional ways to embrace this new dimension. I think that it is now time to review the structure of councillors and their role within the community; if they’re not willing to embrace social media then they are not representative of their ‘customers’.

Before I am shouted at – not everyone is using social media! However a growing majority is using social media and can now interact in a way that was limited before.

My question to councils is do we really need to have so many councillors? Why can’t we open other channels of communication to allow citizens to speak with their own voice, rather than that of an unknown individual? Councillors are supposed to be the voice of the community, but how do they listen to that voice? (The answer is not anyone can talk to me).

Councillors should be listening to the community, understanding how the community talks, going to where the people are. The online community is growing, national ideas are filtering into local issues and local voices are looking for answers from their Councillors.

If you had the chance to redesign your local council – how would you do it?

By the way… When was the last time you met your councillor and were they representative of you?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

August 12, 2009 at 4:11 pm

PSFBuzz – Local Gov and Social Media Manchester 2009

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I recently attended a conference in Manchester discussing the uses of Social Media in Local Government.

The event was using a twitter hashtag to gather comment from members of the audience and also those who could not attend the event.

I was lucky enough to be video interviwed for  the event and you can see what I had to say here…

You can find out more about the event from this site www.psfbuzz.com

Till next time

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

May 13, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Travel Analysed

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I am typing this blog entry while sitting on a train heading to Manchester for, if I remember rightly, a training session on how to use a collaborative working tool for the benefit of local authorities. As I look around me I can see a number of people all probably heading the same way for a variety of reasons.

Let me just point out a few things – I first got on to the platform at 6.15am this morning, the session is due to start at 10.00am this morning, I am having to travel at peak time, I will be returning at 4.00pm (again at peak time) and will not get home till approximately 6.30pm. It will be a long day.

The big question for me is why am I doing this..? It is not a case that the training I will get will not be useful or beneficial, it is more of the issue is there a better way to deliver this training, or meeting without me incurring both the financial expense of traveling and also the tiredness that will come with it.

Tools do exist that will enable organisations to collaborate without having to leave the office, however as it requires some investment in ‘internet’ technology many organisations are sometimes afraid to even try it. Web technology such as webex and Microsoft Live Meeting in it’s basic sense combines the telephone with a presentation, allowing the parties to see and hear what is happening and interact in the same way they would in a meeting. In a more advance setting it can combine multiple participants and also video conferencing. All without the travel costs.

There is a lot to be said for the ‘face to face’ meeting, and there may still be occasions that this is necessary, however an organisation must ask itself just how many of these meetings are really necessary. In addition who is to say that the ‘client’ is going to be available to meet with the business at a suitable time and place.

When businesses are looking for efficiencies alternatives to days out of the office must be investigated as the cost is too high. I recently read an article about companies who were ‘ditching’ their weaker customers and focusing on their more efficient, easier to please, clients. This goes along with the saying that 20% of your customers take up 80% of your resources. Imagine the case if a low return customer is demanding regular face-to-face meetings in a different part of the country every month. How much will this cost and how much will this contribute to the organisation? Would it better to ditch the customer if they are costing more to service than a customer who does not contribute as much financially, but costs much less to manage?

The middle ground does exist and that is to cut down on those travel expenses by utilising technology that is readily available to both small and large organisations. It is a simple business case does the savings from travel outweigh the benefits of investing in web technology to deliver the same meeting functionality?

I would recommend that businesses of all sizes take a serous look at what they can afford and how they can utilise existing technology to save on meetings.

Till next time, I’m going to try to enjoy the view – of Crewe!

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

May 13, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Business Case, Leadership, Web2.0

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Twitter – how to describe it…

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Sometimes the role of Business Analyst is to explain concepts and ideas to individuals and businesses. In the following paragraphs I share how I explain concepts to people. This can be challenging if the concept is complex or the individual does not understand the topic concerned.

At this time we are still racing through a technology revolution and so it is even more important to ensure that when describing concepts it is done so in a language and way that can be understood by the listener. I always try to understand how much the listener knows and when speaking compare complexities to simple situations that the listener will appreciate and be knowledgeable.

Anyway on to the post….

Following on from my previous post Education the Authorities I was speaking with a friend from the communications team of a local authority about social media and the sort of tools that are appearing in the main-stream. He, by his own admission, accepts that he is not always at the forefront of new technology but is always willing to find out more, so over lunch we discussed the entity and the culture that is Twitter.

I have been using Twitter for a couple of months and I still only consider myself a novice when compared to some who have embraced the technology and are reaping the benefits. So how does one novice describe this sort of technology to an even greener novice. I chose to ignore the technology and focus on the usage and compare it to current forms of communication.

Let’s assume that Twitter is a form of information and, as we know, information has been arriving in many forms for many years including, books, newspapers, websites & blogs. The 2 biggest differences between these forms of information and Twitter is length of information and speed of communication. With regards to the length of the message Twitter is limited by technology but can be used to send links to longer messages, so when explaining this- I avoided the subject! The second main difference is speed of delivery, and this is what I chose to start with when explaining how Twitter works.

Books are always a snapshot of history, no matter how hot of the press they are, it will always be something that has already happened. In addition those who want the message have to get the book and only when they have read the information can they say they have ‘got’ the message.

Newspapers are the same, they too are a snapshot of history, however this time history is more recent and the subject matter varies greatly. Those wanting to get the message still have to get the paper, but now the reader can pick and choose their stories to suit their requirements. This allows a newspaper to target a wider audience than a book as the subject matter is now greater.

Websites are faster way of communicating than newspapers, they can be updated quicker and scanned or searched by the reader for information relevant to them. Many newspapers have websites displaying an on-line version of their paper, but with the addition of later stories. Websites are a broadcast of information, in the same way that a radio broadcasts the news. The reader (or listener) does not get a chance to comment or tailor the news to suite their needs.

Blogs takes newspapers and websites to new level. Information posted on a blog can be fresher than a newspaper but the significant difference is the way that readers can now interact with blogs. Readers still have to find the information and choose the blog to subscribe to which meets their requirements. A blog invites reaction from the reader, asking them to contribute to the conversation, challenging or supporting the author. The reader now has a way to interact and develop the information, tailoring it even more to their needs.

Taking communication to a new level is the Twitter culture – here authors take part in an on-line conversation. The information does flow, however it is guided by all the participants and not just an author. Users choose who to follow and who to interact with and listen in to the conversations going on and contribute when appropriate.

When trying to describe this further I asked my friend to imagine that Twitter was an extension of an open plan office where you choose who you want in your office. Try to imagine sitting in your Twitter office, puzzling over something or wanting help or a second opinion, now call out to your friends and colleagues asking them the question. Alternatively listen to the banter that is going on around you, and join in to the chat, answering someone’s query or supporting them.

One thing to remember about an open office, and Twitter, is that when you go out of the office you cannot hear the chatter. Twitter goes on 24 hours a day – there is always someone in the office, however you may not be. Just as in a ‘real’ office if you step out and a colleague requests assistance, you are not there to help – however someone else might. Twitter is the same, it is not necessary to ‘in’ on every conversation.

Twitter is a networking tool.

Twitter is a communication tool.

Twitter is an open plan office, where a lot of people work, all doing different things but sharing a common social ideal of helping others and spreading information.

Written by Paul Jennings

April 1, 2009 at 11:57 am

Educating the Authorities

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There has been a lot of talk recently regarding ways for Local Authorities to embrace ‘social media’, ‘web2.0’ and other key words such as ‘engage’ and how they can deliver better services by using technology. Although some people are passionate about embracing new ways of working there are still plenty out there that are not yet ‘with the programme’.

I was recently brought into a discussion about web forums and how they might be used in a local authority to try to engage the staff to feedback ideas to improve the council. What I learned from these discussions was not so much that there was negativity towards working differently, but it was more the fact that some people did not even know that an alternative solution existed, let alone what to do with it.

In my experience those at the coal face are usually quite good at creating the business case for a new tool or a process if they understand what it is all about. The biggest challenge is getting that message understood by those that can and will make a difference by using the tools. I talked recently about the role of the Business Analyst and how it was important that they were a translator between ICT and the business area. It is this skill that is essential when trying to promote new technology, translating the tools into words that the end users will understand. There is a key question that needs to be answered ‘What’s in it for me?’ if that cannot be answered then the changes will stay on the shelf.

Tip 1 – When trying to get business buy-in ensure that you can relate the tool to the individual that you’re talk to.

Secondly, and this is always the biggest problem to overcome, is culture. Moving towards a 21st Century way of working means changing the culture of an organisation to understand what is happening ‘out there’ in the world.

We are living in a very exciting time. The world of social media, micro-blogging and user engagement is expanding at a rapid rate. This means that our next generation of workers will be web aware and will be expecting to deliver their tasks using the tools that they use on a daily basis. Think if you were changing jobs and you got offered 2 positions, exactly the same money, benefits etc.. however one company expected you to work with a typewriter and post letters while the other gave you a laptop with email. Who would you work for..?

Currently organisations, and local authorities in particular, are in a battle of culture. Councils are never going to be seen as leading edge adopters of technology (some would say that they could be compared to scavengers coming along after the battle has been fought and and grabbing what they can) and as such councils are never going to attract the risk takers that can deliver the wins expected by the private sector. The downside of this is that they have become risk averse and failing to keep up with the expectations of the public. The culture needs to change, and to do that education is required.

In discussions I often break an organisation into 3 key elements:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Technology

Each element is just as important as the others and no one element can save an organisation, they have to work together and constantly evolve. It is often the case that organisations throw money at technology expecting it to deliver but without the people understanding why they are using the technology or how they will use the technology it is a waste of money.

Changing the culture means changing the people – this could be both figuratively or literally. Are you willing and capable to change the culture..?

Tip 2 – Be expected to change people to change the culture.

I mentioned above that to advance we have to understand what we are delivering but also be willing to change the culture to ensure that it evolves with us rather than against us. The big question for us now is – where do we start?

A number of sites have been publishing top tips recently  about where to find information a couple are below…

Another exciting recent development has been the advertising of the post of a Director of Digital Engagement for the Cabinet Office. This post will be there help change the culture and educate local authorities to how it is possible to embrace the future and build the business case.

Till next time.

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

February 18, 2009 at 11:00 am

The Social Local Authority

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I was recently made aware of Bracknell Forest Council Web Development Blog by a tweet from someone who is working towards encouraging councils to become more social. This got me thinking about the work Bracknell Forest are doing and also the work of organisations such as MySociety and FillThatHole as a way of empowering the citizen to interact more with their local authority.  

Such sites and projects raise questions about the response the local authority will give to the information that is delivered from a variety of sources.

Firstly, what happens if the local authority chooses to ignore the information submitted? In which case the site is outdated unless a third party takes the time to update and respond where possible. There’s a number of ways that council can choose to respond to submitted information which could include RSS feeds giving updated status, or automatic emails reporting changes to the status of the call, or more complex solutions such as full interfaces allowing integration between trusted sites and the local authority. All these ways of interfacing and responding will have to be processed by the 3rd party site – but getting a response in the first place is the biggest battle.

Secondly, why are such sites successful in the first place? I believe the answer is simple – sites such as FixMyStreet offer an interface for members of the public to report problems to their local authority in a way that they want. I am sure that citizens are not deliberately shunning the council in favour of a different site it is just that the council does not have the same interfaces as the public expect.  The solution for local authorities is just as simple – adapt! – change the website to meet the requirements of the pubic and learn from those sites that have gone before and developed public solutions.

There is a mindset that Local Authorities are a service delivery just as any other company such as telecoms, high street shops, utilities etc.. whereby the customer can sit back and expect everything to be delivered without having to lift a finger and having the right to complain should something not be done right.

In a way this is true – however citizens, and businesses, need to update their opinion of the council and realise that they are not customers but actually shareholders and need to take an active part in the running of the organsiation. As with any company the better the relationship with its shareholders and customers the better the service will become. The organisation relies on feedback to improve the services delivered, without that feedback the organisation needs to beome a mind-reader.  There is a limited number of ways that

Citizens need to become more involved and be prepared to take responsibility for their actions – no longer is it ‘The Council’ it should now be ‘Our council’ and the work done by Bracknell Forest and other authorities are helping breaking down the barriers.

Written by Paul Jennings

December 18, 2008 at 4:35 pm

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