Research suggests that business performance is improved when there is alignment between business and Information Systems (IS) strategy. However, alignment between the needs of the business and delivered information systems is becoming more complex as business expectations increase. This is a key concern among many Chief Information Officers (CIOs). Business analysts have a fundamental role to play in addressing the issue. Debbie Paul and Lynda Girvan of AssistKD explain how to make the case for BAs from the CIO perspective.
Difficulties persist in ensuring that IS projects are successful. The Financial Times reported on several failed projects where budget overruns ran into millions if not billions of pounds, commenting that ‘poor communication – particularly between business and technical experts – is a constant problem’ . The report also identified poor requirements as an issue, despite the IT industry having been aware of the importance of understanding requirements for several decades.
Such is the importance of IT to business that many organisations now look to specialist organisations to supply their IT through outsourcing or offshoring arrangements. However, this approach brings its own challenges. Information Week reported that many outsourced IT projects are failing and there is a question about how companies retain adequate control over specialised functionality and critical intellectual property. Another question is whether projects that are succeeding in delivering to time and on budget are meeting business needs. Although the success measures for project management concern the triple constraints of time, cost and quality, research suggests that these process-related criteria need to be supplemented by the outcome-related criteria of learning, value and use if the evaluation is to be comprehensive and accurate . In essence, while the delivery of a system within the required timescale and budgetary constraints provides one measure of IS success, it does not guarantee the usefulness of the delivered solution to the organisation.
A further issue for IS functions is the ever increasing need to deliver business value early. In some organisations this has seen a major shift from linear development approaches to more iterative development/incremental delivery approaches such as Agile. However, Agile is not a silver bullet for information system success. The UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Universal Credit project has been reported to have failed because of inappropriate use of Agile, with Computer Weekly stating that “Universal Credit failed on Agile because it was a waterfall contract”. The rush to use Agile without due diligence is an example of organisations adopting solutions based on anecdotal wisdom rather than considering the options available and deciding on the best approach for the situation. Also, many organisations fail to recognise that moving to a new way of working, such as Agile development, is a business change requiring new processes, techniques and skills and, as a result, requires careful analysis, consideration and planning.
Business analysis offers a means of bridging the gap between business needs and information system solutions. Business analysts have the skills and knowledge to investigate business situations or problems, and understand the business needs – from strategic through to operational – in order to ensure that the defined requirements enable business/IT alignment. Despite being a relatively new discipline, many senior business analysts offer extensive skills, providing internal consultancy to their organisations. They advise on aspects such as the priorities within the change project portfolio and the most relevant analysis approach to adopt. They can also help to ensure that wise investments are made and solutions are agreed that will resolve genuine business issues rather than addressing more evident symptoms.,/p>
So how do business analysts achieve this? Firstly, they work at a pre-project level, uncovering root causes of problems rather than merely documenting stated requirements that will only address symptoms. In other words, they begin by asking ‘what problem are we trying to solve?’. Secondly, they listen to what stakeholders say so that their underlying beliefs and values are understood. Thirdly, they consider options in the broadest sense so that they meet business needs rather than immediately assume that software will provide all of the answers. They recognise that not all problems require new IT systems; sometimes the need may be met by redesigning the process or re-training the staff.
It is the responsibility of the business analysts to ensure the effective use of information systems in meeting the needs of the business. Therefore, it is essential that they develop models and definitions of the business requirements and understand the IS requirements within the business context. The V model may be used to illustrate how the business analysis activities align with systems development activities. This is reflected in the extended V model in figure below.
Figure 1. Extended V model
As shown in figure 1, the work of the business analyst provides the requirements documentation and criteria that form the basis for the acceptance of the delivered solution. While surveys have identified several reasons for project failure, requirements definition is cited frequently as a major issue. For example, a survey of 99 IT projects identified requirements determination as a source of problems in 31% of projects. While the impact of ill-defined requirements is well documented, without a holistic understanding of the entire business situation it is not possible to determine the best way forward. Too often the need to elicit business requirements is recognised but the solution envisaged is focused on software without sufficient recognition of the surrounding business context. In effect, the nature of the solution has been determined before defining the requirements and without consideration of alternatives or more holistic solutions.
This is a common theme which is predicated on an assumption that requirements are elicited and defined for the sole purpose of developing or enhancing software. However, in many situations, a software system may not be the only possible solution, or may form only part of the solution, if the business needs are to be met.It is vital that there is understanding of the problem, the business domain and the factors inherent in the particular business situation. After all, the business problems may be resolved, or partially-resolved, by non-automated means. Failure to consider a broader business context may result in requirements that are ambiguous and incomplete.
Business analysts use a rounded approach that extends beyond information systems to incorporate aspects from the broader business context such as process improvement and people change. One of the key approaches used in business analysis is to take an all-inclusive view using models such as the POPIT™ model shown in figure 2. This approach is used to ensure the business processes, organisational policies and structures, and people are aligned with the information and technology.
Figure 2: POPIT model
The purpose of information systems is to enable the delivery of improved organisational performance through IS and process improvement, and to achieve this the IS function must offer the capability to investigate business needs and formulate feasible, relevant solutions, each of which may require changes to any combination of systems, structures, processes and people. Requirements must be firmly based within the business context, and benefits must be analysed such that the enabling IS and business changes are established. This requires the holistic, analytical approach which is central to business analysis work. Given that alignment between the needs of the business and the delivered information systems is often difficult to achieve and the results imperfect, it is vital that organisations employ skilled business analysts who understand the business context. The business analysis specialism has never been more relevant in today’s business world.
This article is reprinted with permission of AssistKD. Please check the AssistKD’s Analyst Anonymous to find more articles on Business Analysis.