Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

SOLACE 2009

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Stormy Times for Chief Executives in Brighton

Stormy Times for Chief Executives in Brighton

This week I will be attending the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) Annual Conference in Brighton.

A lot has been happening in recent months, not least the demand that all chief executives face – do more for less.

I am interested to see how feedback from other events, such as the SOCITM Conference and Digital Britain will be demonstrated on this high power stage.

The people who attend today have the final say about what programmes for transformation stay and which ones go. ICT has a huge part to play in the future local government and I hope that the case for ICT will be put across fairly and that the delegates will have an opportunity to ask and understand how ICT will affect their authority.

If you’re around feel free to stop by and say Hi! I will be on the Digital Inclusion stand or you can follow me on twitter. Some of us will be trying to give live feedback using the twitter hashtag #solace09.

Written by Paul Jennings

October 20, 2009 at 8:32 am

What will Council 2.0 look like?

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In the last few months Social Media has exploded. Newer tools such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace have now been fighting for space in the corporate boardroom alongside blogs and traditional web-pages.

Different organisations take a variety of approaches as to when new technology should be implemented. These can be summarised by the innovation adoption curve…

The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true.

As social media is re-writing the rule book about engaging with customers a pro-active area is that of local Government engaging with citizens. Work from the IDEA and others in their wiki have been trying to understand the problems and how the solutions can be used to deliver them.

I want this to go to the next stage. Social media is changing the way that we live our lives and so we need to adapt our working practices to meet the way that the world is turning, this goes for Local Government too. My question is: how will Local Government change to meet the expectations of how citizens will expect to interact with their council?

Councillors have traditionally represented the electorate by being voted on to the Council. The council is then split into portfolios to enable a broad coverage and public representation of the issues affecting citizens. The portfolios then act as governance for the various departments within the Council, ensuring that any plans represent best value, deliver required services and the needs of the citizen are met.

With the growth of social media resulting in a reduction of the formality required to interact with anyone, how should councillors change their traditional ways to embrace this new dimension. I think that it is now time to review the structure of councillors and their role within the community; if they’re not willing to embrace social media then they are not representative of their ‘customers’.

Before I am shouted at – not everyone is using social media! However a growing majority is using social media and can now interact in a way that was limited before.

My question to councils is do we really need to have so many councillors? Why can’t we open other channels of communication to allow citizens to speak with their own voice, rather than that of an unknown individual? Councillors are supposed to be the voice of the community, but how do they listen to that voice? (The answer is not anyone can talk to me).

Councillors should be listening to the community, understanding how the community talks, going to where the people are. The online community is growing, national ideas are filtering into local issues and local voices are looking for answers from their Councillors.

If you had the chance to redesign your local council – how would you do it?

By the way… When was the last time you met your councillor and were they representative of you?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

August 12, 2009 at 4:11 pm

Learn to relax – learn to win

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http://scobleizer.com/2009/04/23/learn-from-zappos… 

This blog entry describes a visit by Robert Scoble to a company called Zappos. Although what they do is less important – it is how they do it that is of interest. The approach taken is not one of the traditional workplace with stringent hierarchy, with managers, line managers and directors  – but it is an in formal structure more resembling a family rather than a business. Zappos have learned to relax and by doing that they have learned to win. Another classic and often quoted example of changing the workplace can be found at Google.  

By relaxing their organisational structure the company has empowered staff making them feel part of the family and as such has increased the productivity. Staff want to go to work and want to work. Even the simplest steps can make an organisation more employee friendly and each step is a step away from the traditional Victorian factory structure that can be perceived by employees.

Some ‘quick wins’ could include relaxing the dress code. Firstly why some organisations insist that employees wear suits and ties is beyond me. If there is no reason for your staff to wear a suit then why do you make them wear a suit. The feeling of being able to work in clothes that you feel comfortable in is important to staff. It is a simple psychology win that will allow workers to feel that they have some say in the company.

Secondly wins could relate to flexible working – sometimes this is not possible, however where possible it will allow workers to feel more in control of their lives. Flexible working could include the ability to come to work between set hours, or taking lunchbreaks when staff want and not by a prescribed =time. Other flexible working could include ‘flexi-time’ or the ability for staff to earn additional time off work by doing additional hours in advance.

Thirdly wins can also be gained from allowing employees to work from home. This is not suitable for all organisations, and in some places it is not suitable for many employees due to their personal circumstances, however the ability to work in an environment of their choosing can increase productivity and loyalty of the employee.

The way that organisations relate  are just as important as the perks that they offer to staff. As described above hierarchy exists in many companies and the way that staff are treated can resemble a feudal system with a Chief Exec at the top, directors below, managers, team managers etc. etc.. unfortunately to accompany this structure similar communication channels exist with any bottom up messages having to be approved by a more senior person before being passed on – or not in some cases.

More flexible organisations are removing this communication barrier and looking at a social network structure rather than a traditional hierarchy. A social network structure is made up of those people required to deliver the goals and many networks may exists depending on the aspirations. A network may exist for a project and may include staff from many different departments from across the business, it may even go wider than the organisations. The social network appreciates the skills of the individuals and does not distinguish rank but, when working for the goal, gives each member of the network equal status. This improves the speed of communication resulting in faster decision making processes. in addition it also removes individuals who do not need to be part of the chain. In some cases it may be possible to utilise technology to assist social networking in the workplace – but that is for another post.

The key blocker to more organisations not empowering their workforce and learning to relax and win can be summed up as ‘line of sight managers’. These are a special breed of managers, usually suit and tie wearing (even at the weekends) who are convinced that staff do no work unless they are smart and can been seen at all times. They can be described as ‘old school’ managers who live in a world that they know best and everyone else is mistaken.

In some cases it may be possible to reeducate these managers so that they can become more flexible and learn to trust their staff to achieve goals – but in some cases it cannot. What will a leader do if one their managers cannot, or will not, change in line with the organisations..? What happens if a manager recruits only people like themselves – how will the organization develop?

Organisations need to ask the are they ready to plan for the future and realise that the organisation as we know it is changing and are they equipped to deal with that change, have they the people, the processes and the technology..?

Till next time,

Paul

Written by Paul Jennings

June 15, 2009 at 8:08 am

PSFBuzz – Local Gov and Social Media Manchester 2009

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I recently attended a conference in Manchester discussing the uses of Social Media in Local Government.

The event was using a twitter hashtag to gather comment from members of the audience and also those who could not attend the event.

I was lucky enough to be video interviwed for  the event and you can see what I had to say here…

You can find out more about the event from this site www.psfbuzz.com

Till next time

Paul.

Written by Paul Jennings

May 13, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Travel Analysed

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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

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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

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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