Business Analysed

Observations from a Business Analyst

Posts Tagged ‘Business Case

LGA Conference 2010 – Day 2

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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

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

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