Where transformation begins — analysis

Business Analyst Awards finalists profiled as Awards event nears

In both business and ICT there has often been talk of business transformation. That talk has grown louder during times of economic uncertainty, with businesses looking for new, innovative and efficient ways to deliver products and services.

But such changes require a strategic vision and a plan. The vision can, and arguably should, be provided from the executive level. The plan comes from detailed study of current business models and processes and the application of analytical discipline. The “agents of change” who drive the detailed planning of such business transformations, and who bridge the gap between business and technology, are called business analysts.

As with all such disciplines, quality counts.

Computerworld, with the support of consultancy Redvespa, began a search for the very best examples of business analysis in New Zealand some months ago, and the finalists have now been chosen in the lead-up to the announcement of winners at Te Papa on 30 November (Monday).

The finalists are in two categories, the Business Analyst of the Year and the Emerging Business Analyst of the Year, with an emerging analyst defined as having been in the role for less than three years. This year, the judges selected four finalists in each category.

Animal health

The Animal Health Board’s VectorNet project, to control bovine tuberculosis through the control of the possums which carry the disease, was a Supreme Award winner in Computerworld’s Excellence Awards in 2008 and has been the recipient of other awards internationally.

Jody Bullen was the lead technical and senior business analyst on the project, responsible for a team of analysts. As such, Bullen, who has been with AHB for four years, helped develop VectorNet, a web-based information system that underpins AHB’s $50 million a year vector control programme, covering more than nine million hectares in New Zealand.

Bullen cites standardisation and implementation of business terminology and processes, analysis of functional and quality requirements, along with design and definition of the functional specifications for VectorNet’s geospatial area management and integration module, as among his achievements.

That module provides the link between AHB’s business information and geographical management areas for geospatial information.

Bullen was also involved in the design and specification of VectorNet’s task-based security model, its operational management and planning and operational approval processes and operational change management.

And, of course, that required organisation and people management, contract management, tender management and financial management skills.

Bullen also shared what was learnt from the project success, processes and systems with AHB’s internal IT team, which was responsible for the maintenance of the VectorNet system after the project’s completion. He also assisted in the standardisation of processes for all AHB’s business analysis and development activities.

Improved collabration, change control and traceability also featured in Bullen’s submission. These came through the development of a centralised repository of business requirements that would free the team from exchanging Excel and Word documents.

“We needed a centralised repository of knowledge with standardised and repeatable requirements, and a specifications release process that would also provide traceability and baselines. I created a release process and developed the concept of a ‘Release Pack’. The idea of a ‘Release Pack’ is that it would contain everything a development and testing team would need to build and test the software, with minimal input from the business analysis team,” he says.

Tender bender

Scottie Henderson led the development of the Tender Evaluation system, a new business innovation, for New Plymouth-based TenderLink.

With support from senior management, Henderson was able to lead the development of the system in line with the strategic direction of the organisation and meet the business requirements of the customers and suppliers.

It was a development that, Henderson says, helped the organisation increase its competitive advantage and allowed for the IT team to use the Agile software development approach and Scrum model.

Henderson’s background in requirements planning and management allowed him to recognise there was insufficient communication of, or prioritisation of, small to medium scale development requests within the organisation. Like AHB’s Bullen, that led him to formalise a prioritisation, development and release process involving development staff and stakeholders.

The outcome: a concentrated development effort on activities that provide the best value to the organisation and its customers.

“The result of establishing a formalised development request review and development release process has seen a significant increase in the level of transparency of IT development priorities within the organisation, and a greater level of internal communication with regard to development progress and delivery,” Henderson says.

“It has also allowed for the strategic decision makers within the organisation to contribute to the prioritisation of requests, ensuring continuous development movement towards realising the strategic goals and objectives of the organisation.”

Henderson also contributed to boosting visibility of operational and business performance through the ongoing rollout of a data warehouse and reporting system, with information accessible through dashboards on the intranet.

Another project involved integration between email, smartphones and the CRM system, to help fully realise TenderLink’s CRM investment.

Insurance analysis

Vero’s Amanda Delamere has worked on a range of projects for the company and, like Bullen and Henderson, one of these involved automated development and testing.

“As part of our Agile practices we decided to implement data-driven development and to attempt to introduce a full suite of data driven automated tests,” Delamere says. “This has enabled us to do exceptional functional and regression testing in a short period of time. We developed a test suite of approximately 2000 scenarios and use test-driven development for all projects on this application with a resounding level of success.”

She also worked on improving Vero’s AA Insurance Online application on a couple of fronts, as both project manager and BA.

AAI Online was referring too many people to the call centre and opportunities were being lost. The culprit was the ineffectiveness of the referral and underwriting rules, which were hard coded and lacked flexibility.

A project re-factored the rules to make them dynamic, easily amended to meet the market and configurable without requiring further development.

In a further improvement, AAI’s Online application was improved by taking a leaf out of Trade Me’s book, offering an incentive to “buy now”. Vero implemented a discount for online policies with an administration function that can be altered by the online sales manager to fit current promotions.

Training focus

Software Education’s Shane Hastie applied his analysis skills to understanding training market needs. He has been instrumental in the development of new courses and opening additional business opportunities for his organisation.

He also led the development of an assessment tool to assist with knowledge assessment and preparation for the Certified Business Analysis Professional examination.

Hastie advocated and developed the Advanced Business Analysis course, focusing on the Enterprise Analysis knowledge area. That turned out to be the single most successful course launch in Software Education’s history, achieving excellent numbers and high student assessment scores from the very start, he says.

A suite of courses covering the application of Agile techniques in systems development projects followed.

Hastie says his work on the development of the Advanced Business Analysis course and his contribution to industry bodies, helped define the role of the enterprise analyst and raised the profile of the professional business analyst role in New Zealand and Australia.

The move into Agile practices resulted in customer engagements at a deeper level than is the norm in course delivery, working with the teams to identify areas of pain and challenge, and helping them identify practices which will address the problems facing their organisations, he says.

Business analysts emerge

The awards also recongise emerging business analysts, people with less than three years in the profession.

Toll NZ analyst Gopi Dinakaran has been a BA for two years. In 2009, Toll moved all the development and support to an outsource model so there has been a lot of change in systems and support structures.

Since 2007, Dinakaran has strived to become a bridge between business and IT by establishing the development process (customised from Rational Unified Process) and demand management process for Toll IT, trialling it with one business unit at a time.

The demand process allows the general manager to prioritise work where necessary and provides outsourcing partners a clear pipeline of work. It also provides IT management with a view of resource allocation.

Kathryn Gillespie, of SkyCity’s hotel group, recognised that a nine-year-old bespoke solution for restaurant reservations and Sky Tower ticketing was a serious weakness in the non-gaming application portfolio.

She interviewed staff across the business to get their viewpoint and found a consensus that the system made it difficult for front-line staff to achieve customer satisfaction. She then wrote two “current state” reviews to management highlighting the issue.

Replacing the system with two better suited systems became a high priority and she was placed in charge of the associated projects.

Currently with Watercare Services, Yadeed Lobo has worked for several organisations and on several projects over his short career as a BA. These include demand modelling for Metrowater and delivering a single source of truth for financial and sales reporting.

For Inland Revenue he worked on KiwiSaver’s phase three project as functional defects coordinator, while at Deloitte he helped move from a subjective to an objective risk assessment process.

Wei Jin (Kevin) Soo was involved in Vero’s move to Agile development and in the pilot project for that shift to FLIC, an application used by claims loss adjusters and investigators. Agile has now replaced Waterfall at Vero, he says.

As part of the FLIC team, he says he helped deliver phase-two enhancements to an online tablet PC application allowing users to manage their claim referrals electronically in real-time.

The team’s application of Agile project management allowed it to have superior stakeholder engagement throughout the project, he says.

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