Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Archive for April 2009

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.

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Written by Paul Jennings

April 1, 2009 at 11:58 am

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

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