Monthly Archives: November 2016

A rocky road ahead…

    “Times of unprecedented change”

    “Challenging economic climate”

Looking back at a number of the reviews of the political landscape that I’ve written over the years, the two phrases above appear with almost monotonous regularity. And they are just as appropriate today as they have been in previous years. However, what is new is that before both the direction of change and the reasons for the economic challenges were known. The big difference today is that result of the referendum on 23 June has thrown uncertainty into the mix. Uncertainty, not just in the higher education sector, but across the whole country as the process to leave the EU begins.

The Government have sought to reduce some of the uncertainty by guaranteeing that EU students that are currently studying in the UK and those that will begin their courses in the coming years will continue to receive funding for the duration of their courses. Similar guarantees have been made for Horizon 2020 research funding. However, what is not clear is what the impact of Brexit will be on the future recruitment of students from the EU or on research funding. It is unlikely to be good news.

The current analysis is that the Government appears to be favouring a hard Brexit with tighter controls on immigration. The dominance of immigration as an issue in the referendum campaign and subsequent policy has been reflected in the statements from the Home Office suggesting further clampdowns on international students. Regardless of the actual policy that emerges, the rhetoric is damaging – a fall of 10% in the numbers of Indian students is evidence of that. It was not by accident that the Indian Prime Minister linked trade agreements with relaxation of visa requirements but although Theresa May stated that talented workers would be welcome, her response regarding students was lukewarm at best. It would appear that the lady is not for turning.

This is all set against the rather gloomy background of HEFCE’s assessment of the financial health of English universities released this week. The picture is likely to be similar in universities in the other countries of the UK. The forecast, made before the referendum, suggests falling levels of surpluses (and in some cases significant deficits), more borrowing and falling levels of cash reserves. The report notes that universities were looking for an increase of fee income from overseas students (of close to 30%), and for growth in home and EU students of over ten per cent by the 2018/19 session. In the current circumstances it is unlikely that either will materialise; a period of budgetary constraint will be the consequence. This will place an even greater emphasis on efficiencies and effective use of data in planning.

The Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB) is entering the Report stage before its third reading in the House of Commons. The Bill has seen a number of amendments as it has passed through the Committee stage but these have not radically changed the direction of the Bill. The Bill advocates the abolition of the English Funding Council (HEFCE) and the establishment of the Office for Students (OfS). The importance of the role HEFCE play in monitoring the financial health of the sector has been recognised in an amendment that proposes this role transfers to the OfS.

There is a great deal of focus on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), particularly the link to fee increases. Although the TEF will initially apply to English universities, similar measures in the past have been adopted by the other countries in the UK so it would not be a surprise if in future years the TEF becomes applicable to all UK institutions.

The governance arrangements for higher education are also changing. In addition to HEFCE’s transformation into the Office for Students (and universities moving under the Department for Education), there are reports of the Welsh funding council being absorbed into a new Tertiary Education Authority and of the Scottish Funding Council being merged into a ‘super-quango’ with a number of other bodies. Both add to the uncertainty in the sector.

Finally one change that we do know about is that the UK will be implementing the EU General Data Protection Regulation before we leave the EU. Although much of the focus has been on the scale of the fines for breaches, GDPR represents an opportunity for organisations to improve their data and its management. UCISA has set up a website to highlight resources and activities that inform and support our members in their implementation of the Regulation.

There are difficult and challenging times ahead. Universities will need to make good use of the data they have to try and predict the effect of changes and plan accordingly. They will need be more agile to deal with the changes that are known as well as those that are yet to emerge. The sector has been resilient at times of uncertainty in the past and many will see opportunities to reshape their offering and operating model to adapt to the new environment. IT will be at the hub of that change.

What kind of Business Analyst are you?

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Sarah Cockrill
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University
Member of UCISA-PCMG

Day Two

The keynote speaker on day two of the Business Analysis Conference 2016 was Bjarte Bogsnes from Statoil  who gave an interesting talk titled Beyond budgeting – An Agile Management Model for the New Business and People Realities. The premise of his talk was how, if we remove the concept of budgets in the workplace and empower people with their own spending power, they would take greater ownership. Transparency was a key part of this process which encouraged people to make smarter spending decisions. While I found this an engaging talk and interesting idea I don’t feel many UK HE institutions are ready for this as yet.

Next up was Adrian Reed, President of the UK chapter of the International Instituteadrian-reed-_blog_1_image4 of Business Analysis  who gave a fun talk on what Business Analysts can learn from the world of magic. The talk even included a couple of successfully pulled off magic tricks from Adrian himself. Adrian questioned whether as Business Analysts we too often focus our efforts on reaching the end goal successfully and forget about the journey we take both ourselves and our stakeholders on to get there. He asked us to consider the whole performance and not just the “wow” of the trick at the end. If we involve our stakeholders in the journey every step of the way, then we will reach the end together, and even if the end isn’t quite as planned, the stakeholders will be comfortable with the process and come back to work with us time and time again. He reminded us of this by saying, “You can deliver the best system in the world but if you deliver it in a bad way then users will hate it forever.”

To iiba-bcs_blog_1_image5finish the morning off, I attended a talk from Allianz on the IT BA and Business BA.  The speakers discussed how, at Allianz, the IT and Business BAs successfully worked together to eliver solutions. During the lunch session Lucy Ireland from the British Computer Society and Stephen Ashworth from the IIBA gave a fireside chat on how the BCS and IIBA want to work together in the future. One of the main questions from the floor was how as Business Analysts we decide on which, out of the qualifications they both offer, we should do, and whether we see a time when they will bring the two together? The response was that they felt both offered and suited a different set of skills and experiences, that for the time being they would stay on separate paths, and that you, as a Business Analyst, would have to decide which route to take.

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Nigel Risner kicked off the afternoon session with a very lively presentation titled How to create massive impact and be an effective zookeeper.  Nigel’s presentation style was a cross between Michael McIntyre and Alan Sugar. It certainly revitalized the audience and woke us up for the last afternoon of the conference. Nigel gave two key pieces of advice:

1) If you are in the room be in the room. Give whoever you are speaking to your full attention as, for that moment in time, they are the most important person in your life.

2) You can spend all the time in the world analysing who you are and what type of person you are but in business it doesn’t really matter. What matters is walking into a room of stakeholders and quickly being able to recognise what type of person they are and how to communicate with them in a style that will suit them.

Nigel breaks people down into four categories;

  • The visionary, single-minded lion
  • The playful, extroverted monkey
  • The careful, analytical elephant
  • The caring, supportive dolphin

Next up was Ryan Folster from Britehouseryan-folster_blog_1_image7 who talked about being The indispensable BA This was another talk about how as Business Analysts we often reach for solutions without fully understanding the requirements, which just goes to show what an important topic it is for the community.

 

To finish off the conference I attended a talk by Simon Lynch from Aviva Health on Impact Mapping.  Simon’s talk was agile focused, explaining how before creating your epics and then breaking those down into stories, you should start with a session impact mapping. The impact maps should show why you want to do something, how it will impact a stakeholder and what you want to achieve. Simon explained that while this had taken them awhile to get the hang of, it has really helped them when creating the epics and user stories to consider all aspects of the impact.

And that was the end of my first ever IIBA Business Analysis conference. I have thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience of attending the conference from meeting other Business Analysts to hearing all the interesting and somewhat rather lively presentations. I can thoroughly recommend attending this conference to any fellow Business Analyst, and if you get the chance to apply for the UCISA Bursary, it is well worth the effort. I hope I will be able to attend in future years and may even pluck up the courage to speak and share a story of my own to a future audience.

Listening to customer need

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Sarah Cockrill
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University
Member of UCISA-PCMG

Day One

As a UCISA bursary winner for 2016 I attended the Business Analysis Conference 2016 hosted by IRM. The conference was attended by over three hundred and fifty Business Analysts from a diverse range of industries: there was a mixture of experienced Business Analysts and people fresh to the industry. As a Business Analyst with over ten years’ experience in the HE sector, I often get to meet colleagues from other institutions to share knowledge, different experiences and best practice. This conference, however, gave me a chance to meet analysts from outside my peer group. I really enjoyed hearing about the projects they were working on and what they consider to be their best practices, as well as the usual horror stories of being bought onto a project too late in the day and customers’ requirements changing part way through a project. The benefits from these opportunities to chat with other attendees between sessions are hard to quantify, but I personally find them one of these best parts of attending a conference.

The conference was opened by keynote speaker Gavin Esler.gavin-esler_blog_1_image1
Gavin is an award-winning broadcaster, author and journalist and gave an engaging speech about ‘trust’. Trust is something we give to people every day, whether it be in our personal or professional lives. We place trust in leaders who tell us what is in our best interests using facts and figures to back up their arguments. The question is why do we place our trust in some people and not in others? Why as Business Analysts should we expect our customers to trust us when presenting our results and analysis? As Gavin said, “If facts were king, then Spock would have been captain of the Enterprise.” How we deliver a message is just as important as the analysis and facts of our case. As great leaders have shown us we need to become storytellers when presenting our case to the business, so we connect with our audience and gain their trust.

Virgin Media presented the next session titled Share Knowledge, Perform Stronger, Better Together – Evolving a BA practice. They explained how they had developed their BA practice over the years and survived several organisational restructures and rebrands. They had developed a BA toolkit which included templates, tools and techniques that supported their delivery framework as well as also utilising the SFIA capability model for developing their team.

mohamed-bray_blog_1_image2Next up was Mohamed Bray from Saratoga Software who came all the way from South Africa. Mohamed’s talk was titled Think like an Analyst, Act like a Consultant.  Mohamed was an engaging speaker who told us a real life story of when he failed to think about the customer needs first; how he had assumed what they wanted and what he had learned from this experience. As Business Analysts we often fall into the trap of thinking of solutions before we really understand what the problem is and what the customers’ needs are. Often we jump to a technology that we think will solve a problem when technology should only ever be the enabler of a solution, and not the solution itself. If we fail to listen to our customers and truly understand their problem, we will fail to engage them in our solutions. By actively listening to their problem the customer will become the co-creator of the solution taking ownership of the change and become the catalyst driving it forward in the organisatkim-bray_blog_1_image3ion.

After a very tasty lunch, we were welcomed to the afternoon session by a keynote from Kim Bray from Nationwide. Kim took us through her thirty-year career as a Business Analyst. Kim explained how she may not have always held the job title of Business Analyst, but that did not stop her from undertaking business analysis activities for her organisation. Kim described herself as being ‘professionally nosey’ and at the start of her career her naturally inquisitive nature meant she was capturing information on issues and analysing the data before presenting solutions to her organisation without even knowing what a Business Analyst role was. However, one of the key messages Kim left me with was ‘You don’t get something if you don’t ask.’ How often in both our professional and personal lives do we not pluck up the courage to ask for something we want or need simply because we are scared of hearing the answer ‘No!’

The afternoon session was, for me, dominated by Agile.  I attended a talk from Ashley Watson of the NHS Blood Transplant service and Menaka Priya Shanmugavadivelu from Aviva. Ashley talked about UAT and Menaka talked about delivering Agile development when your customers, business, Business Analysts and developers are spread across the globe. Menaka stressed the importance of visiting your dispersed teams to get to know them and build relationships, finding common ground and continuing to build on the relationship after your return back to base.