Tag Archives: software systems

HE survey on business analysis and making the most of the UCISA bursary

Sarah Cockrill
Business Systems Analyst
Coventry University

Member of UCISA-PCMG

 

 

 

As business analysts, we are constantly learning how people perform their jobs roles. Gaining an understanding of how they capture, process and output information in order to achieve the desired outcomes. We capture this information so that we can identify areas of improvement. We also help to implement new ways of working, new software systems or processes that enable our organisations to achieve their strategic goals. As business analysts how often do we take a step back and analyse our own ways of working? Do we stop and benchmark ourselves against other Business Analysts working in the HE community or beyond in the corporate world?

In 2016 as part of my role on the UCISA Project and Change Management Group (PCMG) committee, I carried out a survey to measure the maturity of the business analysis community within the higher education (HE) sector. This informed our understanding of where we were as a community in terms of maturity.

The survey which was sent out to all members of the PCMG mailing list received a 32% response rate, which falls well within the expected response rate for an email survey. The survey results showed that every responding institution was undertaking business analysis activities, with over 65% having a dedicated business analysis team. This clearly shows that there is a recognised need for business analysis activities in the sector. When we looked at the average size of the business analysis teams, we found that it came in at around five members of staff on average, which shows that it is still considered a relatively small area of operations for most organisations. The majority of business analysis teams had been in existence for less than ten years, however most institutions had been undertaking analysis activities prior to the formation of a dedicated business analysis team. The question that gave us a real insight into the maturity of the business analysis function, showed us that 70% of organisations still see the business analysis function as an IT related one. In a mature organisation, we would expect to see the business analysis function sitting with and supporting the senior management team of the organisation. One may argue that just because they are located in an IT function they still may be closely aligned to senior management.  However, evidence shows that most organisations still consider them to be an IT asset with half of business analysts in the sector only working on IT change projects.

Overall, the survey results show us that as a sector we have not matured enough to be in a position to assist in driving the business strategy. As a sector, we are still working mainly on IT driven change initiatives and are based within the ITS function. The majority of business analysts are not undertaking market and competitor analysis or getting involved in pre-project work, such as feasibility studies and business case development.

In 2011 and 2012, the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) undertook a similar survey in the UK. The results showed that the average maturity levels for business analysis functions based in industry matched those found from our 2016 survey of HE institutions. However, as the IIBA survey was four years older than the HE one I carried out, we can hypothesise they have made some progress in maturing as a sector in those intervening years.

The question then arose, how do we as a community compare against business analysts working in the commercial sector?

I wanted to get an understanding of the tools and techniques they were using, to see if they were ahead of the game compared to the HE sector. Do they experience the same issues when undertaking their analysis, did they have the same frustrations as us and encounter the same blockers? What methods did they employ to attempt to overcome obstacles?

Through UCISA’s Groups and Communities of Practice, the HE community is offered an excellent platform to share knowledge, experience and good practice. To step outside this community and gain knowledge of the commercial field, the UCISA bursary scheme allows you the opportunity to attend conferences such as the IIBA conference. This gives you the opportunity to meet and hear first-hand from Business Analysts working outside of the HE sector.

In 2016, I was lucky enough to be awarded a UCISA bursary to attend the IIBA conference in London. I found the experience gave me an invaluable opportunity to gain knowledge on the role of a business analyst working in the corporate world. Listening to presentations from speakers who came from a mix of corporate backgrounds on the topics that mattered to them, gave me an insight into the issues they faced, the tools they used and solutions that had worked for them.

The main recurring theme of the conference was not one of the newest tools, or methodologies but one of the age old issues that faces every business analyst, one of capturing the requirements effectively. I saw several speakers that presented this topic in unique ways and from different angles but the message boiled down to the same fact. As analysts when capturing requirements, we must listen to what our stakeholders really want and stop trying to solutionize and jump to conclusions without capturing the real facts.

The second topic that seemed to be prevalent at the conference was of course, Agile. I know from personal experience in the HE sector many of us are only just starting to dip our toe into the world of Agile project delivery. I found that while the corporate world had been using Agile for a number of years they were still struggling with the same basic issues of trying to fit Agile into organisational structures that were not designed to support this type of delivery. For example:

  • Off shore development teams supporting project managers and analysts working in the UK.
  • Trying to fit Agile delivery into project management structures where the supporting processes were originally developed to support waterfall delivery of projects.
  • Gaining real buy in from senior management to support Agile delivery and provide the Agile teams with someone from the business that would be not only a dedicated resource to the project, but one with the authority to make the business decisions required by the development teams.

Of course, the conference providers ensured there were lots of chances to network in between sessions and this gave me the perfect opportunity to chat one-to-one with other business analysts and delve a bit deeper into their experiences.

The key learning point for me from the whole experience is that there are very little differences between our worlds. Yes, our products or services may differ but the challenges we face as business analysts remain the same. We all struggle to get recognition for the importance of the analyst’s role, we are all bought in too late to projects to have a real impact on the outcome, and we are all given too little resource to undertake the analysis effectively. The funding from the UCISA bursary to attend the conference informed my knowledge of the business analysis sector outside of the HE environment. I believe this knowledge is invaluable to business analyst working in HE as it enables us to mature and grow beyond the confines of our own sector.