Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Posts Tagged ‘Shared Services

Local Authorities and Software as a Service

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I recently performed some business analysis for Solihull Council to investigate sharing services with Lichfield District Council. The aim of the project was for Solihull to host the financial systems of Lichfield allowing secure access to Lichfied’s staff to perform business as usual. My role was to challenge the concept and the parties involved to ensure that everyone knew what they will about to undertake and that it was possible depending on the timescales, costs and resources. I am pleased to say that since performing the analysis both councils agreed to enter into a contract.

The project reminded me of a time when I worked for a hosted software provider as the concepts were the same, one company would provide a technical solution for another, to be accessed in a secure manner over a network. The project got me thinking further about the possibility of local authorities starting to enter the Software as a Service (SaaS) market, providing services for other councils.

Many private sector SaaS providers would love to capture the Local Authority market, however it would be one of the most challenging markets to try to enter. Many factors prevent these players reaching the starting blocks including local and central government security concerns, complex business processes, risk adverse councils, funding issues, internal resources and the requirement for reliability. Many of these are genuine and some are resultant of the cautious nature of Local Authorities.

One option for local authorities would be to work together to gain efficiencies from existing systems by utilising their existing capacity to meet the needs of another authority. In the local authority market there are a small number of large suppliers providing a small number of systems to a large number of councils supporting the complex business processes undertaken to meet the needs of the local community and also government. Many of the local authorities have support arrangements in place, either internally or with 3rd party providers, and they all have defined their own processes based on best practice and guidance. This means that they already have the in house skills and expertise to make a shared service solution work.

Business analysis would need to be undertaken to ensure that the councils involved are ready to commit and understand, not only the benefits, but also the responsibility of such an agreement. It is in these situations that a business analyst will be challenged. When performing the work for Solihull and Lichfield I went in to the project with a skeptical, but open mind and I looked for proof and assurance that what was being proposed could be delivered. I challenged the expectations of both parties and made sure that the objectives were understood and agreed. It came as no surprise to me that the expectations of both sides were different and this was one of the key roles of my analysis to define.

I do believe that Local Authorities have the capability to work together and take advantage of enterprise wide systems that have been put in place. As councils are being challenged to deliver more for less this sort of option is becoming more a route to be investigated.

Written by Paul Jennings

April 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

Who’s your BA..?

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I was recently talking to someone about issues they were facing with regards to the co-ordination of data at work. The problems that they were describing seemed quite normal for an office with an increasing workload and the challenge of maintaining that information.

They started to ask me about possible solutions and floated the idea of a small database which could be used to track workload between the suppliers and the team members. My first impression was that this could do for  short term fix, however what about the long term.

I then started to ask questions about what was corporate objectives with regards to information management, where was the work being handed down from, what information needed to be shared with other users outside of the team. Some of the answers were available, but understandably not all of them as they just did not have access to that level of knowledge. I then asked the killer question – do you have a business analyst that can help you? The answer was ‘I don’t know’.

The role of a Business Analyst (BA) in any corporation is varied, but most importantly it is to act as a translator between the business departments and the IT departments. The most important thing about being a translator is that you can communicate to both sides at the same time in a language that they understand.

Business areas all have ICT requirements which could include information feeds, data exports, catalogues and work-flow. The organisation also has ICT requirements which could include data security, information returns and performance monitoring. It does not help the corporate objectives when business areas are allowed to develop solutions to requirements in isolation. It is the job of the BA to help ensure that when choosing a solution it fits with the corporate goals and that the business needs are represented at a corporate level.

If I was to give advice it would be: if you’re thinking about a ICT project to deliver a solution, make sure that you have identified who your BA is.

  • They will help you understand what options are available and should help you to think about alternative solutions that you may not have considered.
  • They will be albe to keep you informed about the corporate direction the organisation is moving in with regards to ICT.
  • They will help you take advantage of corporate wide solutions that as a small area may not be considered but could provide a business case if a number of areas worked together.
  • They will support you when dealing with ICT ensuring that you get what you need, not what ICT think you need.

Remember the swing…

    What the Customer Wanted

    What the Customer Wanted

    What was installed

    What was installed

Top Tips:

  • Find out who is your Business Analyst
  • Find out where the organisation is heading with regards to ICT
  • Ask them to help you in understanding your needs
  • Don’t assume that you know best – they might surprise you!

If in doubt – ask me and I will tell you what to ask!

Till next time

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

February 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Shared Service Sorcery

with 3 comments

The concept of Shared Services has been on the Local Government agenda for some time as a way to combine resources and save money. Over the years some of the big consultancies have been touting for business, tempting local authorities into bed, some classic examples include Birmingham City Council’s deal with Capita and IBM’s deal with Somerset. Other local authorities are looking to move to the next level and including a strategic partner to deliver multiple services for the group.

When embarking on the path of Shared Services it is essential that the whole organisation understands what they want to get out of it and what they are willing to put in to the deal. I fear that when Shared Services appears on the agenda no-one asks what do we want and instead focus on how much can we save.

ICT is a key enabler of successfully delivering Shared Services and one of the reasons it is so important to understand the requirements and expectations up front. When explaining shared services I treat it as a journey that takes an organisation from in-house solution through to a fully managed solution. The first question I always pose is – where is the line..? The line defines what one organisation gives up and the other takes up.

Having worked recently with 2 authorities looking to join up their financial services I was interested to learn that different departments had different opinions as to where the line was going to be. Some thought that it was a fully managed service while another department felt that it would be a hosted service. In the end the project was split into 2 phases, with phase 1 looking to implement a hosted solution where one authority would be responsible for the hardware while the other would be carrying on as normal but with a new infrastructure. In phase 2 work would be undertaken to pass some of the operational tasks from one authority to the other.

In summary: Get the line in the right place, avoid the confusion up front.

The second question that I raise is what does the organisation want to get out of the agreement. Is it money, does the authority want to make a profit..? Is it efficiency, by working together does the authority want to deliver a better service for users..? Is it experience, does the authority want to learn more about shared working with an aim to increase usage in the future..?

Profit is always a bit of red herring and no authority should go into a shared services agreement expecting to make money. It is the nature of business to only create an infrastructure that is required for the current service with limited room for expansion. Taking on the work of another authority could mean doubling the infrastructure to support and so will require investment to meet the needs of the agreement. The cost of this investment will affect the price that needs to be charged but this will need to be balanced with the need to be competitive and so the profit margin suddenly stops looking so good.

In summary: If you’re looking to offer shared services, be wary as all that glitters is not gold.

The third question that I ask is what impact will this have. In a shared services agreement, no matter how far down the road, there is a giver and a taker. It is essential that any changes to processes are fully understood before entering the agreement as substantial changes will affect efficiencies and therefore the ‘bottom line’ of the agreement.

Finally – shared services are a good way of delivering better services to customers by utilising the skills in place, however be wary and ask the right questions before taking the plunge.

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 29, 2008 at 2:55 pm

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