Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Archive for the ‘Business Case’ Category

Who’s your BA..?

with 9 comments

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.

Advertisements

Written by Paul Jennings

February 17, 2009 at 3:26 pm

The bad practice of best practice

with one comment

The young mens’ organisation Round Table has a motto – Adopt, Adapt, Improve – and derives both its title and its maxim from a speech made to the British Industries Fair in 1927 by the then Prince of Wales – “The young business and professional men of this country must get together round the table, ADOPT methods that have proved so sound in the past, ADAPT them to the changing needs of the times and wherever possible, IMPROVE them”.

Even though these words were spoken in 1927 the concept of adopting, adapting and improving can be applied to many situations, both business and personal, today. To me the key is not so much what to do, but more that this tells us the order in which to do it.

“ADOPT methods that have proved so sound in the past…”

In my experience organisations understand the concept of best practice but are reluctant to implement it as they feel that they are different to all those organisations that have gone before. Therefore best practice is not the best for them. These organisations inevitably jump to adapting the best practice without actually seeing if it will meet their needs.

Organisations need to take more time to understand best practice rather than making the rash decision that firstly they need to implement best practice and then secondly conclude that they are special and best practice is not for them.

My advice is take your time; understand why you are looking to adopt best practice; develop a knowledge of the best practice chosen; plan to implement it; understand how it will affect your business and how you are going to manage those effects.

“ADAPT them to the changing needs of the times…”

As mentioned above organisations have been known to jump to the adapt phase and skip the adopt, how can an organisation adapt something when they don’t know what will happen when they adopt it?

Once best practice has been adopted it has to be reviewed to ensure that it is meeting the business needs. Every organisation has got different needs and ways of working and so the best practice needs to be tweaked to meet those needs, but fundamentally the practice remains the same.

Think of best practice as a wheel and the adapting is making the wheel fit with the cart – size, width, materials etc. After the adapting has taken place it is still a wheel.

“…wherever possible, IMPROVE them.”

It is possible for an organisation to improve best practice but this comes after the time and experience of adopting and adapting. All best practices evolve and an organisation can contribute to that evolution through working with peers, dissemination of ideas and gathering feedback from users.

Best practice has to evolve to meet the ever changing needs of business and industry. Using our wheel metaphor, over the years the wheel has improved from wood to alloy – can you imagine a formula 1 car racing around Silverstone with wheels from a 15th cart..?

And finally…

A thought to take away, if best practice is a wheel allowing the cart to move, by chipping bits away without, understanding what it does, you turn it into a triangle – put that on your cart and shove it!

Till next time.

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

November 26, 2008 at 10:38 am

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

When playtime stops and work begins

leave a comment »

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

with 4 comments

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

Blogroll

Advertisements