Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Archive for the ‘Business Case’ Category

LGA Conference 2010 – Day 2

with 2 comments

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

Business Analysis – the basics

leave a comment »

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 2009 Day 1 – what we’ve learned so far

with 3 comments

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

Travel Analysed

with 2 comments

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

Tagged with , ,

Local Authorities and Software as a Service

with one comment

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

Twitter – how to describe it…

with 4 comments

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

with one comment

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

Blogroll