Business Analysis and Digital Transformation: How to ensure stakeholders can make well-informed decisions
True to the investigative nature of a business analyst, I recently became interested in the term “digital transformation” and how it will impact my profession. How will it affect my current stakeholders as my organisation is also embarking on a digital transformation journey? My main concern is how well equipped are my stakeholders to make decisions on digitally transforming the organisation?
This article is thus an untested attempt at finding value as a business analyst in the all-important decision-making process of stakeholders on their digital transformation journey.
Defining Digital Transformation
Type Digital Transformation into Google, and it spits out a large volume of articles and definitions. I needed to find a meaning that is globally accepted but also easy to understand. A paper produced by 451 Research gave a simple, yet clear description of the phrase:
“451 Research defines Digital Transformation as the result of IT innovation that is aligned with and driven by a well-planned business strategy, with the goal of transforming how organisations serve customers, employees and partners; support continuous improvement in business operations; disrupt existing businesses and markets, and invent new businesses and business models.”
According to a study done by Capgemini Consulting and MIT (MIT Centre for Digital Business and Capgemini Consulting, 2011), there are three types of digital transformation initiatives:
- To improve customer experience by using technology;
- To transform operational processes by using technology to increase productivity and decrease cost; and
- To change the organisational business model to create new and more advanced forms of value.
How will the traditional business analysis role be affected by digital transformation?
The BABOK Version 3 (2015) refers to the role of business analysis as “… the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders… Business analysts play a role in aligning the designed and delivered solutions with the needs of stakeholders.” The BABOK also states that an IT business analyst “is the designated liaison between the technical team and the business group which uses the application”.
With the advent of Agile practices implemented in organisations, the business analyst has become more than just the ‘liaison officer’ between business and their technical partners. Business analysts are especially valuable for digital transformation projects because of the skillsets that they already have. However, instead of only translating requirements to developers and solutions to business stakeholders, the business analyst role itself has transformed into advisor to stakeholders. The business analyst has become the person who is well informed, but not an expert, on business processes, technological architecture and platforms and has the best interest of stakeholders at heart, while maintaining an unbiased relationship with all project stakeholders. Therefore as advisors, BAs have an important task of ensuring that they help stakeholders identify and understand their needs and problems and what solution would best address them.
As a business analyst, I am well placed within the organisation to identify inefficient processes as well as help stakeholders to identify pain points within their current way of working. Business stakeholders are often well aware of pain points or problems, but can sometimes be blind to the inefficient steps within such processes because they have become accustomed to their way of working. This is where a BA’s critical thinking skills are most effective, by asking them to explore why these steps are required, one will be able to guide them into constructing processes that deliver value to both the users and the organisation. It is an important activity in the digital transformation process because invaluable and unnecessary steps can easily find their way into digital solutions and a key component of a successful digital transformation effort is efficient and effective processes.
Business analysts cannot work in a cocoon and must understand the environment in which change is happening. Knowing the context is a good starting point, but it is not enough to give good advice to stakeholders. BAs also need to understand how this change will affect both internal and external customers.
Perhaps the organisation is embarking on a complete systems overhaul in which case the first question should be: “What are your goals and vision for this digital transformation project?” To establish a common vision, I usually call up my vision box tool, or I help stakeholders create a business benefits matrix.
All digital transformation efforts must have a well-defined reason or goal which is communicated widely within the organisation to align future endeavours with their overall digital transformation vision. It is important that stakeholders agree on Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, (SMART) goals to measure the progress of the initiative as well as for them to know when they have reached the “end” of the beginning of their digital transformation. One of the main differences between digital transformation and most other types of transformation is that it is a continuous improvement process and there is no end to it. This is mostly because of the dynamic changes in the market and global pressures for continuous evolution.
No matter what the reason for a digital transformation, it is clear that process definition or improvement is the backbone for any digital transformation attempt. BAs need to assist their stakeholders in understanding what the current state of processes are and what the future state of the organisational processes should be. Our advice to stakeholders should be to select a division of the organisation most prominent to show value instead of trying to transform the entire organisation at once. Eating the elephant bit by bit, right?
This brings us to the importance of a roadmap or strategy which is often overlooked because it is seen as “just another buzz-word” and a waste of time. By helping stakeholders understand the importance and by assisting them in compiling a roadmap of the digital transformation project, they will be able to implement valuable pieces of work in a logical sequence and ensure that they can reap value at each implementation.
Business analysts should also work closely with customer representatives and UI/UX experts to understand customer expectations and work towards making the transformation as seamless as possible for the customer. Although the improvement of customer experience is one of the pillars of digital transformation, it could be a potential weak link if not planned proficiently.
By placing the digital transformation initiative in one of the four quadrants of the Purpose Alignment Model, BAs can investigate the following aspects which will help define the vision and resource allocation of the project:
- Is this initiative mission critical to the survival of the organisation?
- Are you trying to gain a competitive edge over any other similar organisations?
- Should you be exploiting partner services instead?
Digital Transformation requires the embracing of technology innovation and introducing these innovations in the organisation as a means of addressing problem areas. As advisors, a BA must be aware of technological innovation to advise stakeholders so that they can make well-informed decisions. Business analysts must become the drivers of innovation, and as with technology, not necessarily the experts in every attempt.
By interacting with different types of business analysts, I have found that most are by nature transformational thinkers or change agents. As Agile BAs, we have also become guardians of the value proposition in every aspect of the Agile delivery process. The challenge is to understand the needs of our stakeholders better and to transform those needs into innovative technological solutions.
Business analysts are no strangers to digital transformation as they have been at the forefront of many projects. The only difference here is that in the past, transformations were driven by the need for process improvement by way of automation and now transformation is being driven by technology with an underlying principle of process improvement.
To summarise, there is no right or wrong way to tackle digital transformation. However, by confirming (with one hand on the BABOK) to execute ones business analysis duties to the best of one’s abilities so that stakeholders can make well-informed decisions – that is where a business analyst’s value comes in.