Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Archive for October 2008

Shared Service Sorcery

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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

Management of Transformation or Transform Management

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In a previous post I mentioned the big stick of transformation and how it was important for transformation managers to realise when to get the stick out. In this follow up post I would like to discuss the role of management in transformation.

So the drivers are there – thou shalt save money, thou shalt be more efficient, thou shalt do more with less, thou shalt increase productivity – what now..? How do you deliver? How do you transform to meet the drivers? Where do you start?

The first question that any organisation needs to answer is who has the responsibility for transforming the organisation to meet the drivers? There are possible answers to this the first is everyone. Everyone has the responsibility to deliver changes to meet the current drivers, everyone needs to be aware of what is happening. The problem with this answer is that everyone is many people with many ideas and understandings of the problems facing the organisation, therefore everyone is not a true answer.

The real answer is the big cheese, the grand formage, the man himself, the boss, guvnor or him in charge (this could well be a her). The person at the top is the person who is responsible for the successfully delivery of transformation within an organisation. It could well be that this is delegated to a senior director or other post, but they should still be involved.

Without that top level buy-in the project is doomed to failure as managers will duck, dive and avoid commitment, challenge authority and fail to deliver. A transformational leader can inspire business areas to greatness but without corporate commitment there is a danger that the project will go off the rails before it delivers success.

I have mentioned before the importance of a big stick, it is the role of management to define the look and feel of the big stick and also deliver it if necessary. A transformational leader with a big stick without the authority to wield it is a dog with no teeth, it’s bark is worse than it’s bite. Business areas will see through a toothless stick in no time and once that happens motivation for change drops and the challenge of delivery increases.

Business areas are willing to change, to an extent, they will meet the transformational leader part way and without the stick the process will stall. To deliver a successful transformation it is essential that management support the transformational leader and realise that they are the stick and use it to ensure that the project proceeds to plan.

In summary…

  • Management have to be 100% committed
  • Management have to define the Big Stick
  • Management have to be willing to use the big stick
  • Management support the transformational leader
  • Business areas need to know that the big stick is real

Till next time.

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

October 17, 2008 at 7:48 am

The big stick of transformation

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I recently challenged some senior managers to tell me when does the big stick enter their transformational planning. They were surprised by the question and tried to reassure me that the large public sector organisation we were discussing was ready to change and really willing to do what was necessary to deliver.

 

In my experience business areas are very willing to change and point out failings – in other business areas, but never within their own area. When dealing with transformation, as opposed to service reviews, it is essential that the aims and objectives of transformation are drilled into the business area and these have to be lead to be achieved.

 

There will come a time within every transformation project that progress against expectations will have to be reviewed. What happens if progress is not as expected and the drivers that started the original transformation project are knocking at the door? It is time for the Big Stick of Transformation.

 

It is at this point that the leader needs to take action. Some view transformational leaders as people who get the best out of business areas and encouraging them to ‘do it themselves’ but do not appreciate that leaders also have to wield the big stick.

 

There is a quote that goes something like – an army would never follow a manager into battle but an inspirational leader could lead them through the gates of hell. This is true, but looking deeper, that leader did not sit back and ‘facilitate’ allowing the troops to come up with their own ideas and strategy, that leader inspired them to greatness and shook the big stick, showing them what would happen if they did not deliver.

 

The transformation project needs to understand when the big stick needs to come out, but more importantly what the big stick will be and how it will be implemented – and be willing to implement it. Without this knowledge and commitment the war is lost, transformation will never happen, and the hounds of hell will be cocking their legs on your campfire.

 

A transformational leader should be able to accept that the business are the experts and that the ideas need to come from the inside while inspiring the troops to make more efficiencies, cut more jobs, increase sales further or blow open the gates of hell while painting graffiti on the walls.

 

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 16, 2008 at 11:54 am

When playtime stops and work begins

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My previous post (ICT – Getting Accountant Buy-in) made me think more than I had originally anticipated, and I have concluded that, in a way, I put the cart before the horse. My error was to jump straight in and try to help get the message across as to how to convince management (and accountants) that your project is a great idea, I did not, or have not, discussed what are the best tools for the job – hence this post.

I saw an interesting post this morning by Robert Scoble discussing how there has been a shift away from traditional personal blogs to a more business centred view of blogs. My personal opinion is that this is good thing and it shows that the commercial world is following developments made by the web for social benefit. Scoble would prefer that the blog remained personal.

Web 2.0 – the biggest buzz word to hit the internet since .com. The technology that has been developed and the interaction that has grown has been amazing, now everyone twitters, facebooks, blogs, IMs, emails, VOIPs, RSSs the list goes on but the question remains how do we apply this to everyday business, or, when does playtime stop and work begin.

Without the embrace of the commercial sector social media will remain on the sidelines, only being accessed by a select few while topics of conversation will remain unfocused and irrelevant to many employees. By embracing social media the commercial sector will help to develop the potential and attract new investment, just look at email and websites. What we have to do is think how a commercial organisation can benefit from using social media as part of its daily toolbox.

Work life balance is now more important to many employees than ever before. At the same time being an employer of choice is high in the priorities of many organisations. Somewhere a compromise needs to be achieved. Social media tools can help deliver that compromise.

The most favoured example of work-life balance is home-working; the ability for an employee to get up at 8.30am and start work from their home office. The tools required to achieve this are now becoming common place:

* Laptops – allows employees the ability to take their desk with them
* Virtual Private Networks (VPN) – allows secure access to office servers
* Voice over IP (VOIP) – allows employees the ability to connect to the office telephone system remotely

So the technology is available – but what about the problems..?

It is often said that the biggest thing missing when working at home is the banter – my question is why..? Tools such as twitter and instant messaging can help. Secure and shared between employees, IM can deliver the banter during the normal working day.

I have also heard people say that it is easier to pop down the corridor and see someone. What happens if the person you are going to visit working from home..? Also, if seeing someone is so important, what about video messaging..?

Other examples of where social media can benefit an organisation, but is not being fully utilised, is with regards to collaborative working. Why do we need to send around emails cc’ing the world and his dog – a blog would help deliver this. Imagine a development project where you need to be kept informed, but not required to respond – it is easier to RSS a blog than have to skim through a cc’ed email to find what you are looking for.

Another collaborative tool is the Wiki – the ability for a group of people to join in with the creation of a document without having to email around a paper constantly out of date.

Think of Facebook, imagine that a group of colleagues working together had the ability to keep each other informed (with or without pokes!) with live updates, information and reports from meetings, visits etc.. It is another example of how with simple thinking a play toy can be changed to be a useful business asset.

There are many tools available but it is essential that they are not dismissed out of hand as toys. They need to be considered and investigated as possible tools to help productivity in the work place.

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 11, 2008 at 8:27 am

Getting Accountant Buy in

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As a person and as a career I investigate various ways in which new technology and new ways of working can be implemented within the modern business environment. In the past I have investigated using handheld devices, home working, computer based training and a whole raft of other solutions that have been implemented.

Currently the flavour of the month is collaborative working and how to use web 2.0 theory within the work place with tools such as VOIP / mobile phone convergence, rich content websites to deliver messages and the use of wiki and blogs for project working.

As you are no doubt saying to yourself, these tools have been around for sometime, however in some organisations these are either unknown or seen as dark arts. This is where the problem lies.

Today’s organisation is risk adverse and is driven by the need to save money and you don’t have to be a genius to realise that the the first area to be hit by this thinking is ICT. So how can I get buy-in from the accountants!

There are plenty of papers published almost all saying the roughly same story “Innovate or die!” and we all agree with the theory but how do we get over that first hurdle; how do we convince the accountant that this is a risk worth taking.

There is a popular saying amongst accountants – “Show me the business case and I’ll think about it”. Which after the work is done is closely followed by a second popular saying “It’s a great idea, but I just don’t think that the business is ready for it”.

The business case is one of the most important elements of the equation, not so much for the accountant to see that you have done your sums, but also for yourself to ensure that you have asked all the right questions and challenged yourself in the process. I see the business case as a check list or a reality check to justify that the project you wish to embark on is as sound as the glittery wrapping the salesman gave it to you in.

A second key point is knowledge and understanding. The ICT department is in a difficult position, they cannot start a project without a business sponsor or need, however the business is not expected to fully understand all the tools that are available to complete the task, hence catch 22. To encourage your accountant to agree that the risk is worth it, they need to understand what it is you wish to do. Example – try explaining SharePoint to someone who is not in ICT and has never heard of it before (if you want to make it more difficult, add in the fact that they are a Mac disciple!) – if you can convince them that it is more than a website then your 1st step is in the right direction – and we have not even got to the collaborative working quickstep.

In short – it is important that your accountant knows the product and has seen it in action to be convinced by its benefits.

Risk – it is amazing that a four letter word (not including swearwords) can make an accountant breakout in a cold sweat. It is vital that you explain the risk in the way that they want to hear it. Don’t assume that you know what they want to hear – they will always ask something else. Try to include them during the initial discussions so that you can get them ‘on-side’ earlier.

Partnership working – How do you eat an elephant..? In small chunks! – if you can look to the business areas to take a share of the risk your accountant will be happier. A possible route for this will be partnership working, it is easy to see this when dealing with infrastructure based projects but when dealing with business unit solutions this may prove more tricky. It might be that other local organisations may wish to join your project, or possibly local colleges or universities may wish to achieve the same goals.

Cost – it cannot be ignored and your accountant will be staring intently at you till you mention it. The important part is understanding what is included in the cost. In this savings driven world all costs have to be accounted for, down to the penny. This could include: software, hardware, maintenance, consultancy, internal charges, replacement costs, training, upgrades, revenue implications – you name it, put a cost to it!

Savings – this is the word that makes your accountant smile. Savings can come in many forms, but the bottom line will be that the savings will outweigh the costs. Savings could include, software licenses, headcount, management information – try to make it as tangible as possible but intangible savings are also good. In addition to listing the potential savings it is important to justify them and indicate when your accountant will get his paws on the cash.

Finally 3 key questions…

When trying to convince your accountant that this project is the next best thing, make sure that you can answer these questions…

What is the total cost of ownership..?

What is the challenge of delivery..?

What is the benefit to the organisation..?

Think of these on a scale of Red, Amber & Green – the more green the better, the greater the amber the greater the risk to be accepted, the more red the more chance that your accountant will be telling you… “It’s a great idea, but I just don’t think that the business is ready for it”.

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 9, 2008 at 9:22 am

Community Content Creation

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Two stories took my eye today that got me thinking and I wanted to share them with you. The first, an article about the online fan base for Terry Wogan and can be seen here…

BBC – Radio Labs – Fan cultures in radio (3) – TOGs or “This Ordinary Group”

The article focuses on how the community feel closer to the celebrity by being part of the website rather than just being a listening body receiving information from the radio. In addition the article asked the users what could be done to improve the site – the response was very encouraging and just goes to show how those that use the information can better tell the creators what is best than the creators second guessing the content.

This got me thinking – if we can do it online, why can’t we do it in real life. How do we as citizens engage with each other and our providers. This leads me on to the other item that caught my eye today.

An author of a blog I follow posted an entry live from a conference this afternoon about a speaker, Dominic Campbell, from an organisation called FutureGov he spoke about how Local Government were missing the point when consulting with their citizens. He gave examples of Brent Council and highlighted this video to help engage the citizens.

Local authorities need to engage and trust their community to help develop both the services that it delivers and also the information provided on their websites. Local authorities have to move away from the ‘We are almighty, we know what you want’ position to a ‘Help us to help you’ approach.

Web 2.0 can help with this, build an online community reflecting the real life world.

Till next time.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 8, 2008 at 4:21 pm

Welcome to Business Analysed

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The observations of an ICT Business Analyst specialising in the utilisation of software within Local Government.

I hope that this blog will grow over time, linking to other sites that I find interesting.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 8, 2008 at 4:07 pm

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