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Stories, insights, and tips on how to stay balanced (and get ahead).

 

Business Analysis – Paralysis

Robert Schechter
IT business analysis

Conducting JAD or business requirement gathering sessions can be a nightmare.  As a business analyst, the ability to find a path through the thick weeds of requirements is an important skill set.  In my experience with leading requirement gathering sessions for system migrations, identifying which requirements are crucial for a business is challenging.  A good percentage of the information captured from "subject matter experts" is based upon their assumptions which can not be validated rendering the information as useless.

Q: How do IT business analysts build up their skills in weeding through business requirements?
A: IT business analysts can build up the requirement management skills in the following ways:

  1. Join a business analysis group such as the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) to gain insight from other business analysts by sharing different perspectives and best practices
  2. Refine business analysis skills by taking certification classes or training courses such as:
    -Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP)
    -Business process analysis and design
    -Building logical data models
    -Developing requirements with use cases
    -Defining business systems with Unified Modeling Language (UML)
    -Recognizing and controlling requirement risk
  3. Use reference guides such as Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK)
  4. Refine requirement elicitation techniques to better understand and confirm the information being gathered

Q: What are the challenges IT business analysts will face in leading business requirement projects?
A: Some of the challenges IT business analysts may face with requirement management are:

  • Lack of clarity with the scope of the project
  • Requirement change requests being poorly managed
  • Missing stakeholder requirements
  • Conflicts between IT and business areas
  • Project not in-sync with organizational goals/vision

Q: What is your experience in this area?
A: In the first quarter of 2009, my role was Business Architect/Lead Business Analyst on a corporate enterprise assessment for real-time claims processing. With foresight, the stakeholders allowed three months to complete this assessment.

All of the business and IT stakeholders were engaged from the very start including two project managers, one for IT and the other for business. The subject matter experts supporting the Legacy claims systems mapped the current state which assisted in the completion of a comprehensive framework for the business architecture. This was pivotal in completing this assessment
Consensus with the business architecture was granted within 6 weeks which allowed a month and a half to develop three technical solutions for real-time claims adjudication. The business architecture framework was easily understood. Therefore, senior leadership was able to determine which of the three solutions the enterprise should move forward.

Since the enterprise assessment was thorough and comprehensive, the Business Case and Project Charter were easily completed in just a few weeks. This saved weeks of preparation time in the project initiation stage.  In addition, the high-level requirements that were gathered during assessment were leveraged for detail requirement gathering. This reduced the requirement management stage of the project by one month.

Upon the project initiation, leveraging the information and organization from enterprise system assessments shortened the time durations of most of the SDLC phases. Also, surprises from changes in scope, varying objectives, or lack of feasibility were eliminated

 
 
 

Engage Your Job Search Network Using Twitter

Let's assume that you have already used Twitter to increase your knowledge in the IT field as I've mentioned before, or as suggested to IT execs by Peter Kretzman in Getting' Twitter, from the Technology Executives Perspective. Now you are following a strong network of interesting and potentially useful networking contacts. You'll need to engage these Tweople to receive the maximum benefit for your job search.

Here are a few easy tips to quickly build a savvy network on Twitter and in the IT profession:

  • Be Conversational: Creating a two-way dialogue by responding to Tweets, maintaining your @ replies and retweeting (RT) interesting tweets.
  • Learn Etiquette: CIO.com offers a quick overview of etiquette with their Five Dos and Dont's post.
  • Integrate Accessibility: Integrate all of your social media pages and devices. Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to stream your Tweets to your profile page, however stay away from it if you Tweet more than 10 times a day. The settings tab on Twitter allows you to connect from a mobile device whether it has internet capabilities or not.
  • Quality over Quantity: As you engage your network, always remember the benefits of quality over quantity for your job search. Check out the analysis on the  TwiTwips post, "Twitter Followers: Quantity or Quality?"
  • Post Interesting Tweets: Follow the right people and catch their interest with interesting posts and linking to articles relevant to your industry. Have a question? Ask your followers for instant feedback.
  • Use Hashtags: Don't underestimate the power of tracking on Twitter by using hashtags (#). Adding a hashtag in front of a word allows that word (your tweet and you) to be grouped with a certain topic making you and the topic more searchable. This can prove to be very useful when posting information relevant to your job search in the IT industry. Search Hashtags using HashtagDictionary or #hashtags.org.

Remember, using a social network as part of your job search strategy means that you must engage your contacts to reap the benefits.

Image by garyslevin007's

 
 
 

Building Your Network of Followers on Twitter

It's imperative to try Twitter for your IT job search if you want to make social networking work for you. The key to doing Twitter right though, is to use it as a turbo-powered networking tool rather than just another job board. Let me show you what I mean. Doing a simple search at search.twitter.com using the keywords "IT Job Chicago" turns out 48 job postings. You could give Twitterjobsearch.com a try (which I'm not yet a huge fan of) and get similar results. Job postings on Twitter link to the source of the posting and allow you to apply with your standard resume. The thing is, you could do that on Monster and CareerBuilder already, so how is using Twitter in this way any different?

Professional Networking on Twitter

I suggest that you think of your presence on Twitter as a new avenue to pursue your career interests. Notice that I didn't say use Twitter as a new way to tell the world you are desperately seeking work. {C}The speed with which you will get to a ‘Do you have any jobs available' conversation will be proportional to how quickly you add value to the Twitter network. As you follow people at companies where you would like to work, or follow some excellent recruiters, they can immediately refer to your Twitter page and your stream of ‘tweets' to gauge your knowledge in the IT industry. They can also view your resume or online portfolio by following links in your bio. Sharing this information would normally require an online application or 2-4 emails, but can be done by one direct message or @ reply instantaneously via Twitter.

Finding Your Following:

Of course, the greater your network of followers, the more response you will have to your networking efforts. Third party resources have created numerous sites to facilitate searching Twitter ranging from people or business searches to a Twitter application search. You can view a comprehensive list of fifteen directories with Mashable's article, "Find ‘Em on Twitter: 15 Twitter Directories Compared." Here are four I narrowed down to maximize your job searching network:

  • Twellow: Known as the Twitter Yellow Pages, allows you to search people by name, bio, location or category such as: information technology or recruiting. Twitter users can add themselves to Twello and its categories (max 20), modify their profile to include more links and extend their bio.
    For Example: IT Recruiter Search
  • NearbyTweets: Allows you to localize your Twittersphere by searching for fellow Tweeples via city, zip code or address. You can also search with keywords and limit the search radius to find those with similar interests to you who are just a jump away.
  • Twitpacks: Allows you to search by creating packs of people based on topic, interest, location, company and events.
    For Example: There is a pack for technology.
  • Twibs: IT businesses are on Twitter too. Follow them to see when they land new business and might be hiring.
    For Example: IT companies

I hope you'll follow these easy to learn tips to increase your network and take your job search into the Twittersphere.

Photo by designer-wg.de

 
 
 

IT Career Spotlight – Jim Tomczyk

Jim Tomczyk
Project Manager specializing in IT healthcare
Hudson IT Contractor

Q: What has been your career path?

A: My path to project management began years ago, when I was a developer. I learned early that even the most elegant code (coding is an art form, after all) was useless if it didn't serve the customer's needs. By always keeping the customer in mind, it helped me to learn and grow the skills needed to move up the ranks in IT: requirements analysis, design, development, testing, implementation and support. My PM experience has included projects across several industries, including my current assignment in the Enterprise Program Management Office at a major health insurance company.

Q: How has the current economic environment impacted customer service? 
 
A: After too many years of neglect due to trimming the bottom line, companies are finally realizing that they are losing more revenue from bad customer service than they are saving by their cost-cutting measures. Customer service has become common fodder for comedy skits such as on "Saturday Night Live!," to the point where it has almost become an oxymoron. In addition, the pressures of today's economy are causing companies to support their increasingly demanding customer base with fewer and fewer resources. And while today's technology provides an ever-greater level of transparency, that doesn't necessarily translate into customer loyalty. Version 2.0 of "the customer is always right" has become "the customer wants it all and wants it now."

Q: How has customer need evolved in today's health insurance industry?

A: While the U.S. government and insurance company associations (that govern brand licensing) mandate strict policies on how insurance claims are processed, an insurance company that takes weeks or months (or years... don't get me started!) to settle a claim is fighting a losing battle at a time where customers are continuously becoming more and more technology savvy. Health insurance companies need to upgrade their applications to meet the goal of satisfying increasing customer demands in order to retain and even grow their customer base. The smart choice is to join the recent trend among more established and advanced companies and improve customer service through the use of real-time technology.

Q: What is real-time technology?

A: Real-time technology is a set of systems and applications that respond in a timely fashion to requests for information and are composed of two essential components: timeliness (processing a request within a required period of time) and capacity (processing a certain number of requests within a required period of time). Coupled with predictability (processing various types of requests in a predetermined way), dependability (maintaining a required level of availability and information quality) and relevance (how well the information provided meets the customer need), real-time technology can be a powerful tool in improving the quality of customer service. 

Q: What are the benefits of real-time technology in the health insurance industry?

A: The area that will benefit the most is claims processing, which is the single most important area of customer service for health insurance companies. Real-time access to insurance claim status information has been around for some time to a greater or lesser degree. However, the latest trend in improved customer service is to provide information as to how the claim will be processed (or "adjudicated") and how much financial liability the customer (policyholder) will have to bear, in real-time, before the claim is formally submitted. The benefits are significant: advanced planning, selection between related services, selection of service providers and reduction of callbacks to the insurer (to see how their request for information is doing), to name a few. Insurance companies will benefit through increased staff productivity (reduction in multiple calls to and from the member while the information request is being processed), increased revenue through customer retention and new customers (after all, happy customers stick around and spread a company's reputation).

Q: What are the challenges PMs may face with real-time technology?

A: The challenges revolve around the modification of existing business processes and applications. This will test the expertise on all sides (business, technical and PM) and will play havoc with your project schedule and budget. Current systems typically have been kluged and cobbled for decades to run in batch mode (especially applications written in some Creaky Old Basically Obsolete Language [any similarity to COBOL is unintended and purely coincidental... honestly!]). The knowledge base may have been depleted over the years through advancement, attrition or even retirement (in my current project, there are several retirees that have been brought back as consultants). And that means resource allocation could become difficult when multiple projects are competing for the few available subject matter experts. Even determining project scope can be a problem when the details of information sources, data paths and application interfaces have been lost in the mists of time (we don't need no stinking documentation!).

Q:What do you recommend for IT professionals?

A: Keep in mind that the trend towards improved customer service is not just specific to the health insurance industry. Almost all industries are moving in this direction. Real-time technology can serve as both a short-term and long-term solution that will have a positive impact on the bottom line. So it's important for IT professionals to ramp up on real-time technology and be proactive in discussing the benefits with their managers or prospective employers.

 
 
 

Bob Brennan, Iron Mountain CEO, at Harvard Business School

This morning at Harvard Business School, Bob Brennan, President and CEO of Boston-based Iron Mountain, delivered a vision for the future and reflected on the notable mid-recession growth and profitability of this perennial giant in the world of records management, data storage and disaster recovery.

Casual observers marvel at how this company not only survives but thrives even though it shares the same challenges as "Dunder Mifflin Paper Company" on The Office - a core business built around a mundane, semi-obsolete medium, paper (similarly semi-obsolete medium, magnetic tape) in a hip digital age.

At the breakfast gathering in HBS's sparkling and sun-drenched Spangler Center, sponsored by the HBS Association of Boston, Iron Mountain materials summarized the firm's fortunes: "In 1998 Iron Mountain was a $400m physical box and tape storage company with operations entirely within the United States. Today, they have $3b revenues, operate in 38 countries on five continents, and have completed more than 250 acquisitions." Make that 300 acquisitions, according to numbers Brennan quoted this morning. Things have been picking up in 2009, it seems.

His vision for the future and ambition is similarly galactic: "Adding technology services that increasingly bring us into competition with IBM, EMC and Microsoft." We asked Brennan to throw a spear to pinpoint his definition of "technology services." Iron Mountain's growth has largely been fueled by its Document Management Services (DMS) division, which pretty much means image storage. A huge area with room for growth, but storing images of printed paper is a different goldfish pond than the growing online, real-time digital data backup and storage business. For financial services, their largest client sector accounting for 20% of Iron Mountain's business, data storage and backup means transaction records in database form. It also means, if not real-time backup, then at least daily database synchronization in a batch backup, transmission and storage cycle (e.g. for via EMC's SRDF technology).

"IBM," said Brennan, meaning clients seeking that service should address themselves to Big Blue. "We have no clue about online data storage." Good to be clear about core vision. With an image behind him of a goldfish in a small bowl and another goldfish leaping into a larger bowl set before a vast ocean, Brennan made the point that Iron Mountain's unarguable success in this economic holocaust is due to leaping into bigger ponds like DMC, but not drowning in the ocean of online and real-time data backup and recovery. Iron Mountain sees its present and future in "inactive data" rather than online, real-time transaction-based data, according to Brennan. "Let us eliminate your noise," he says, summing up the approach.

Brennan also seeks to make Iron Mountain the leading provider of digital computing, now known as cloudshare. "In the old days, we called it timeshare," jokes Brennan. He compared his firm's market share in this arena to that of salesforce.com, another recent juggernaut.

His biography outlines a path to the executive suite reminiscent of Craig McCaw, who cobbled together the stupendous McCaw cellular empire in the 1990s. According to the company's website, Brennan joined Iron Mountain through the acquisition of Connected Corporation, where he served as chief executive officer. Before Connected, he was a general manager for network and service management with the highly successful and flamboyant Cisco Systems, Inc., a global leader and the "junkyard dog" of the networking and communications equipment business. Also, he was the CEO of American Internet prior to its acquisition by Cisco.

"We are not a software company, we're not a real estate company, and we're not a transportation company. Although, we maintain a fleet of 5,000 trucks making 75,000 stops," summarized Brennan.

Iron Mountain faces challenges as it continues to reinvent itself and move into cloudshare and other digital arenas. Brennan distinguishes himself from his counterpart on The Office, Michael Scott (notorious anti-manager), by squarely facing the transformation required of Iron Mountain's 21,000 employees around the globe. Brennan clearly takes pride that his firm has managers who have worked themselves up from the warehouse to running multimillion dollar business lines, but acknowledges it is largely a blue collar workforce. With this in mind, he brought together 200 company leaders from around the world to focus on the company's strategy. At this gathering, Brennan articulated his management philosophy: "Lead with kindness - We have to pull, not push, people. And develop people." This philosophy is creating discomfort for some of his managers, and "it's creating a lot of discomfort for me, too," joked Brennan. "I've been getting a lot of feedback since I put this out there a few weeks ago."

 

You can read Sarah Cortes' other Tech columns at Inman Technology IT


Photo One by Dic Academic RU of Gold Fish

 


Photo Two by Iron Mountain of Bob Brennan, CEO

 


Photo Three by Wikimedia of Craig McCaw, Founder of McCaw Cellular and Clearwire Corporation

 


Photo Four by Amaloney at The Times Picagune of Bob Brennan, CEO

 
 
 
 
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