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LGA Conference – Day 3

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The day of great conversations

Today was the final day of the LGA Conference and for me it turned into a day of some great conversations and ended with a bizarre twist and the realisation that lots of work still has to be done.

Over the previous 2 days those that stopped by at the stand ranged from those with a genuine interest to those who were there just to have a go on the wii or pick up a business card holder. Today was different. Nearly all the conversations today were great ones. We had councillors asking us to talk to their service areas so that they could learn from us; I had the chance to show how to mash an RSS feed into Google Maps to show detail; I asked aCounty Councillor to consider shared ICT services with a neighbour; I asked another councillor to go back and find out who their BA was!

I really think that many of those who visited the Digital Inclusion stand went away educated, and I would hope in some way inspired to include Digital Inclusion in future plans for their councils.

I also managed to have some great conversations with other exhibitors (unfortunately I did not win the IPad). I learned today about the cultural transformation programme that Fenland District Council has implemented. It was very impressive to hear how it has changed the organisation from a demotivated, hierarchical council to one that driven by the employees for the benefit of the citizen.

Fenland have really understood that Leadership is different to Management and that people respond differently to leaders than managers. Many authorities and many companies can learn a great deal from that approach. (Learn to relax, learn to win.)

I also had a conversation with the Big Lottery Fund who are looking to support a number of projects that could really change peoples lives. In addition there will be the chance to bridge the Digital Inclusion gap with this funding.

By the time the Councillors and delegates had left to tell Michael Gove what they thought of him, I was on the way home feeling quite smug that, maybe, I had made a difference.

The bizarre twist

Having battled the traffic I got home and changed hats. One of my personal roles is Vice Chairman of Solihull Round Table and was invited to attend a local community meeting to help understand Council priorities for the future. I really thought that this was very timely.

It was a real shock entering that room to find that I was the only representative of a community group and the other attendees consisted of Local Council officers, Local Councillors (none of whom were at LGA) the Fire Service and the Police Service. The local people had put their trust in their councillors.

The conversations resolved around the work that the Council was planning to improve the neighbourhood and they were asking for affirmation that this approach was correct. The data used to formulate the projects was years out of date, a point quickly picked up on by the Councillors.

On Tuesday Eric Pickles made it very clear that from now on Councillors were in charge, the community knows what’s best and the council needs to meet the needs of the locality. Big Society was born!

The bizarre twist was that these Councillors did not know what was happening in their area and did not seem enthused to find out. I challenged the Councillors at the meeting and they admitted that they only learned and followed the bad news stories (such as bin collections!) and never the good news stories.

The council had put a lot of effort in trying to engage with the local people but actually had a poor response from the public. It happened that I was also a resident of the area discussed and it turns out that I was putting my trust in these Councillors to accurately represent my needs to the council. I have never even met my councillor, how can they tell the council what is working well or needs to be improved?

The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has released an excellent paper discussing the need for engagement with the community and how Councils should work with community groups to understand local needs. It also describes the roles that Councillors should take in the future to meet the expectations of Central Government.

My personal experience has made me feel that unless the community realises what is expected of them, their councillors will not change their attitudes and we will continue along the same path with the Council second guessing what local people want by using out of date data.

My challenge to Councillors: Get on the street, talk to every resident, learn what’s working and what’s broken. Ask the RIGHT questions!

My challenge to Community Groups: Be part of the Council, get involved, make sure your voice is heard, be active, promote the good and the bad.

Till next time,

Paul

LGA Conference 2010 – Day 2

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Bad start

Day 2 of the LGA Conference in Bournemouth got off to a bad start, my colleague and I had our cars broken into overnight and she had some items stolen. Luckily (if there is a lucky side) neither car was damaged. Needless to say this put a bit of a damper on our enthusiasm, but we rallied and did our best!

I would describe today as a mixed success – the number of people stopping by fell, however those that did come stopped and chatted for some time and, hopefully, went away with new ideas about Digital Inclusion. We also had a few repeat customers who, having thought over night about what we said, wanted to find out more.

There was a lot of discussion regarding the future of councils and the scope of their empowerment. I found that many of our visitors were interested in how the Beacon Councils have saved money by delivering services more efficiently through innovative use of ICT. It appeared that Digital Inclusion aimed to support the community and individuals directly was not on their radars.

I made the point today of asking our visitors what did they think the challenge was for Digital Inclusion in their areas. Two main concerns came to mind:

  • Lack of access to broadband

In the majority of cases this was limited to accessing broadband in rural areas, however in some cases it was lack of high speed broadband that was causing the issue.

Many rural areas are still suffering from lack of coverage, however schemes and ideas do exist to help these communities. Schemes such as Staffordshire Moorlands Digital Bus which visits these areas, bringing with them a host of ICT equipment and connectivity to introduce people to the benefits of the internet. In other areas community centres are being used to host digital spaces. Where the centre is already connected, opening it up to allow access to other users is a benefit to the whole community.

Schools are another example of where they can be used as a hub of Digital Excellence in rural areas.  One councillor I was speaking to was advocating that schools should be open 7 days a week around the year and become more than a traditional school.

The second element of lack of access to broadband concerns high speed broadband. For those areas luckily enough to be ‘covered’ and hitting the 2mbps universal commitment the next challenge is about how to attract new business to their area if they cannot provide high speed connectivity.

Large businesses have the ability to pay for what they want – if they want 100mbps lines then they pay and they get. Small businesses cannot afford this luxury and so instead are looking for locations that can provide these speeds “off the shelf”. By not having this high speed internet access innovation is being stifled and ideas are quashed. What would a council say if it learned that the next Micro-Goo-App-Soft-le-le decided not to invest in their area because while they were small they could not get the broadband support that they needed at the time.

A number of Authorities around Birmingham, UK, have got together and formed the City Region group. One of their aims is to promote the availability of high speed broadband to enhance the region as a location for new businesses. A workstream of the group is to define planning guidance that will ensure any new developments (commercial or residential) will be capable of delivering high speed broadband to the premises.

To do this the region is asking planning departments to include requirements that ducting needs to be included in any new designs.The ducting will be used by the telecom operators to provide high speed fibre to the development to enable the speeds desired by companies.

A plan for the future roll out of broadband across the UK is essential. To become a digital nation we must accept that there is an urgency to clear the ‘not spots’ so all areas can receive broadband – but we cannot stop there. We need to be looking to the high speed future that is essential to keep innovation alive.

  • The finances don’t add up

I mentioned yesterday that the need for a suitable business case still has to be found. When speaking to Councillors today they were asking for the Golden Egg, that pot of cash that will be saved by investing in Digital Inclusion. I was happy to point out that Digital Inclusion is not 1 large egg but many small eggs that make up the savings. Unfortunately, although they agreed in principle, I doubt that they were anyway ready to sign and Digital Inclusion projects off!

Having been given time to reflect on the announcement that Local Authorities were going to be held responsible to voters and not to central government this gave me the chance to talk to the Councillors about what the voters wanted. Councillors have a duty to listen and how would they react if they were told that the voters wanted to be Digitally Included and that it was the roll of the council to create the environment that will support growth in this area. Would the Councillors then consider investing in community centres, or as mentioned above, transform schools to become the hub of the community with ICT facilities available to all.

When looking at the same problem from a different angle, the Councillors were suddenly warming to the idea. If the message is delivered by the voters, loud and clear, to the Councillors then Digital Inclusion can happen.

A surprise conversation and a challenge

One of the final people that I talked to today was from the construction training industry, a fellow exhibitor who stopped by the stand drawn in by one of the freebies! We got talking about the importance of Digital Inclusion in general terms and I started to think about how Digital Inclusion could be relevant to the construction training industry. I had a small eureka moment.

The courses that the construction training industry delivers are not just about putting one brick on top of another, they, like nearly all courses, include elements of research and the submission of coursework. Why don’t a training provider, like the construction industry, work with a local authority to retrain individuals who are receiving benefits. In return the local authority would fund a PC and broadband connection for the duration of the course.

By providing the ICT to support the individual during their course would lead, hopefully, to an increased pass rate and less drop-outs. These increased skills would enable the individual to come off benefits sooner than if they had not taken the course, leading to a cashable saving for the council. (I cannot deny that there will be risks such as unfortunate job market etc, or guarantees that the course will lead to a job.)

I came to the conclusion that people need a reason to use a computer and succeeding in training could be the enabler that is required to make Digital Inclusion work. I think that this could be the start of a viable business case.

My challenge then is to Local Authorities to work with education provider and become that business case. Make Digitial Inclusion work.

Till next time,

Paul

Tomorrow is the last day of the LGA Conference. If you’re around call in and see me on the Digital Inclusion stand, or alternative follow the twitter hashtag #lgaconf

Written by Paul Jennings

July 8, 2010 at 12:35 am

LGA Conference 2010 – Day 1

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So how was today for you? Did it meet your expectations? Was there something lacking, something unexpected? or was it as planned?

I spent today at the LGA Conference in Bournemouth, talking to councillors and finding out what Digital Inclusion actually means to them. For me it was a very worthwhile exercise. What made it more interesting was the challenge that Digital Inclusion is facing in today’s councils.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State, announced a series of measures and strategies to put the ‘local’ back in ‘Local Authority’, to remove centralised control and encourage community responsibility. He is now challenging councils to come up with ways to deliver more of what the voters need rather than what Whitehall wants. (See here for the full speech.)

This freedom is allowing Councils to choose where to invest and how much to invest. They are now looking for the magic business case to please the electorate while saving money and delivering better services. It’s now time for Digital Inclusion to step up to the mark.

How can Digital Inclusion deliver the magic business case? I don’t think that it can. Eric Pickles challenges Councils to “Show me the money”, Digital Inclusion cannot do that, but let me ask you, dear reader, what do the people want?

Digital Inclusion changes lives; Digital Inclusion saves costs from occurring; Digital Inclusion can save a Council money, but probably in ways you may have never thought.

The councillors I talked to today feel into 3 categories:

  • We’ve already done that, we’re efficient as we can be

They were the ones that walked away, not willing to listen or be challenged. How are these Councils going to make savings, deliver what the voters want, if they’re not willing to listen to or learn from other local authorities? Or if they are as efficient willing to share that knowledge. I won’t dwell on this point.

  • I love ICT, I appreciate the benefits let’s get Digital Inclusion out there

I cannot deny that these councillors were my favourite to talk to, and it is great to hear some of the projects that are going on elsewhere across the country to engage the community digitally.

  • I don’t know about Digital Inclusion – Tell me more

These councillors I respect the most. They took the time to learn more and each time, I am proud to say, I could see some real recognition coming across their faces as they started to understand how Digital Inclusion could be made to work for them. They happily accepted the challenges that I put to them, they pictured the projects and examples working in their area and went away realising that Digital Inclusion, may not be the golden ostrich egg but could well be a stream of golden hummingbird eggs waiting to fall into their laps.

So what will tomorrow bring? I don’t know, but I do know that I will be looking to challenge more councillors about Digital Inclusion and, hopefully, talking more with those who have gone away tonight and thought about what I have said.

Till next time, or if you’re in Bournemouth – tomorrow!

Paul

I am currently exhibiting on the Digital Inclusion Stand in the Purbeck Room at the LGA Conference, you can find me there.

Written by Paul Jennings

July 7, 2010 at 12:07 am

Local Government Association 2010

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LGA LogoOn Tuesday 6th July 2010 I will be in Bournemouth attending the Local Government Association 2010 Conference.

It will be one of the first major events since the general election and the emergency budget, both of which have had a profound and urgent affect on Local Authorities up and down the country.

In October 2009 the SOLACE conference was flagging warnings about the situation to come. I am going to be interested to see if Local Authorities heeded the SOLACE message and how much of a ‘shock’ the emergency budget is having.

It is a time for Local Authorities to think beyond the norm are realise that how they have delivered services in the past may well not be the way to deliver the services in the future.

ICT is going to play a huge part in the future of service delivery for local authorities, both as a tool to process information but also as a way to shape services into 2011 and beyond. The new government has already shown the way to engage with tools such as:

  • Your Freedom – the chance of members of the public to challenge the laws of the UK
  • The Spending Challenge – inviting Public Sector Workers to tell it how it is and how it should

Changes are happening and this Government is serious about ICT. The challenge for Local Authorities is how to use ICT so that it delivers cashable savings and not become a Money Pit.

To me it is all about attitude and vision. Too many local Authorities are thinking about the immediate future but forgetting the long term benefits that ICT can bring. We need Local Authorities to plan for the future and be prepared to invest now and save later.

In addition it is necessary, when looking at the savings, to realise that there may not be a single ostrich that will lay a golden egg, instead it may be made up of many hummingbirds laying a lot smaller golden eggs. Digital Inclusion is an example of little savings making a big pot.

I will be looking to update this blog and will be tweeting while I am in Bournemouth, and if you’re around get in touch.

Till next time

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

July 2, 2010 at 3:11 pm

Business Analysis – the basics

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I thought that I would go to basics and create a quick presentation that highlights what, to me, are the essential elements of any business that need to be considered when looking to apply Business Analysis.

The main message is:

  • People
  • Processes
  • Technology

They are all intertwined and together they form the ‘business’.

Business Analysis looks at each of these elements to ensure that they support each other and that they are right, timely and affordable for the business.

Till next time

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

June 18, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Solace – Day 2

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We are now two thirds of the way through SOLACE 2009 and I thought that I would let you know of my observations  since my last post.

As far as I could tell day 2 was all about leadership and the power of communication (led by Drs Peter & Susan Glaser). This comes as a useful reminder to any Chief Executive, no matter how many years ‘under the belt’ they have got to the name. As organisations Local Authorities have to treat people well to ensure that they will give their best. The definition of corporate leadership has been defined and redefined over many year and I doubt that 1 of the Chief Executives attending have never heard this message before in someway or other.

Although local authorities have been challenged before and each have managed these challenges it’s still useful to review the approach to ensure that it is still gaining the objectives as it was intended. My question is how many people heard the message, realised that it applies to them, and decide what are they going to do about it?

The main surprise for me has been the attendance – or lack of it. ~350 delegates were registered, however when passing the registration desk at least 40% of the pre-paid badges had not been collected. It was also clear in the exhibition area when speaking to other exhibitors that not many Chief Executives were making the rounds and as 1 Chief said ‘he could not be bothered with the hard sell’.

I also feel for Oracle who invited myself, along with all the delegates, to a free evening reception prior to the conference dinner. I would estimate that 60 people showed up for an event which Oracle would have expected at least twice that amount and catered accordingly.

I wonder if these major companies will think twice about signing up to sponsor next year. BT was a major conference sponsor but did not take a stand in the exhibition hall. I wonder if we’re seeing the start of the end of ‘conferences’ in their traditional sense.

If delegates have more pressing engagements that force them to give up their conference seat then maybe the conference is not working. I would imagine that at least it will be scaled down next year.

I am going into day 3 of the conference glad to know that I am going home in a few hours. I feel that the people we did speak to benefited, however we did not get the message across as widely as we had hoped.

Make sure you follow the ‘action’ on Twitter using #solace09.

Till next time,

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 22, 2009 at 9:18 am

Solace 2009 Day 1 – what we’ve learned so far

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Well the first day of Solace 2009 is over and I suppose it is a time to reflect on what I have observed during the conference, the exhibition, the curry house and the bar.

The general messages that was being delivered out were “the hard times are here to stay” “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency, save, save, save” “must do more to save more”.

What I did not hear were the ways that our Chief Executives were supposed to get over these hard times, maybe this will come over the next couple of days.

It is a different perspective as an outsider watching the happenings of SOLACE 2009, I feel somewhat remote, but on the other hand passionate about what is happening on the other side of the wall. Digital Beacons at SOLACE 09To explain, I am here as an exhibitor and my day-to-day role does not normally trespass on the Chief’s territory so this is a rare opportunity for me to see what goes on behind ‘closed doors’.

My role this week is to help promote the use of IT to deliver services that benefit the customer to local authorities Together with my colleagues from the other digital inclusion beacons we are working to enlighten the minds of chief executives one authority at a time.

Today was the first day of the conference and the passing footfall included some of the other exhibitors, a couple of delegates and a few interested parties. In short, not as many of the Chief Executives as we had expected. I had hoped to be able to ask our CE’s what their authority was doing to meet the digital challenge and how IT was perceived within their organisation. Maybe tomorrow will bring better fortune!

From the observations that I have made today I feel that the general impression is that each authority needs to focus on generating savings to minimise spend as income is only going to get less. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, not much was being said as to how this should be delivered.

A positive presentation came from Jeff French who talked about the perception of the public towards local government who started the discussion as to how local authorities can understand their shortfalls by ensuring they as the right questions.

Philip Hammond challenged the Chief’s by saying “if we want innovation, we must learn to embrace failure” – I am not sure that many councillors will feel the same way and will lend their support to their chief.

Personally I view the issue as a 3 sided triangle (or as Andy Sawford put it at the bar tonight - a 3 legged stool) with PEOPLE, PROCESSES & TECHNOLOGY supporting the future. I can see that the drive to improve PROCESSES was being discussed today and I would imagine that it will carry on being discussed till the end of the conference.

The TECHNOLOGY was being discussed at the SOCITM Conference 2 weeks a go and I could imagine that at a similar HR event the PEOPLE element of the triangle would have been discussed.

So far SOLACE has not combined the 3 legs of the stool, and without this top down understanding the “savings, savings, savings’ and ‘efficiency, efficiency, efficiency’ cannot be delivered. We need to build the business case that will allow us to embrace the failure and through combined effort transform into stronger local authorities.

I hope that the speakers tomorrow will help strengthen the triangle and I hope that more Chief Executives will come to the Digital Inclusion stand and not be distracted by the opportunity to drive around Silverstone in a F1 car!

Till next time.

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

October 21, 2009 at 1:16 am

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

Learn to relax – learn to win

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http://scobleizer.com/2009/04/23/learn-from-zappos… 

This blog entry describes a visit by Robert Scoble to a company called Zappos. Although what they do is less important – it is how they do it that is of interest. The approach taken is not one of the traditional workplace with stringent hierarchy, with managers, line managers and directors  – but it is an in formal structure more resembling a family rather than a business. Zappos have learned to relax and by doing that they have learned to win. Another classic and often quoted example of changing the workplace can be found at Google.  

By relaxing their organisational structure the company has empowered staff making them feel part of the family and as such has increased the productivity. Staff want to go to work and want to work. Even the simplest steps can make an organisation more employee friendly and each step is a step away from the traditional Victorian factory structure that can be perceived by employees.

Some ‘quick wins’ could include relaxing the dress code. Firstly why some organisations insist that employees wear suits and ties is beyond me. If there is no reason for your staff to wear a suit then why do you make them wear a suit. The feeling of being able to work in clothes that you feel comfortable in is important to staff. It is a simple psychology win that will allow workers to feel that they have some say in the company.

Secondly wins could relate to flexible working – sometimes this is not possible, however where possible it will allow workers to feel more in control of their lives. Flexible working could include the ability to come to work between set hours, or taking lunchbreaks when staff want and not by a prescribed =time. Other flexible working could include ‘flexi-time’ or the ability for staff to earn additional time off work by doing additional hours in advance.

Thirdly wins can also be gained from allowing employees to work from home. This is not suitable for all organisations, and in some places it is not suitable for many employees due to their personal circumstances, however the ability to work in an environment of their choosing can increase productivity and loyalty of the employee.

The way that organisations relate  are just as important as the perks that they offer to staff. As described above hierarchy exists in many companies and the way that staff are treated can resemble a feudal system with a Chief Exec at the top, directors below, managers, team managers etc. etc.. unfortunately to accompany this structure similar communication channels exist with any bottom up messages having to be approved by a more senior person before being passed on - or not in some cases.

More flexible organisations are removing this communication barrier and looking at a social network structure rather than a traditional hierarchy. A social network structure is made up of those people required to deliver the goals and many networks may exists depending on the aspirations. A network may exist for a project and may include staff from many different departments from across the business, it may even go wider than the organisations. The social network appreciates the skills of the individuals and does not distinguish rank but, when working for the goal, gives each member of the network equal status. This improves the speed of communication resulting in faster decision making processes. in addition it also removes individuals who do not need to be part of the chain. In some cases it may be possible to utilise technology to assist social networking in the workplace – but that is for another post.

The key blocker to more organisations not empowering their workforce and learning to relax and win can be summed up as ‘line of sight managers’. These are a special breed of managers, usually suit and tie wearing (even at the weekends) who are convinced that staff do no work unless they are smart and can been seen at all times. They can be described as ‘old school’ managers who live in a world that they know best and everyone else is mistaken.

In some cases it may be possible to reeducate these managers so that they can become more flexible and learn to trust their staff to achieve goals – but in some cases it cannot. What will a leader do if one their managers cannot, or will not, change in line with the organisations..? What happens if a manager recruits only people like themselves – how will the organization develop?

Organisations need to ask the are they ready to plan for the future and realise that the organisation as we know it is changing and are they equipped to deal with that change, have they the people, the processes and the technology..?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

June 15, 2009 at 8:08 am

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