Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Full-blown business analysts are, like homo erectus, an end point in an evolutionary process. But it’s an evolution that is very much a work in progress

Underpinning Everything

For Colin Knowles, director of technology and distribution for national broadcaster ABC, the challenge of keeping the business happy is doubled as the boundaries between information and broadcast networks blur. Where IT infrastructure once supported the broadcaster's information systems, it more and more has to support the production and distribution of content.

It makes Knowles heavily reliant on business analysts with clear insights about how the business currently uses technology and how it might use technology in the future — and what that means in terms of delivering robust infrastructure and tools. He needs the big picture view. And, since the data and broadcast networks are increasingly meshed, any new applications have to be "bet the business" in terms of robustness.

The ABC employs several layers of business analysts: a couple who work directly to the managing director Mark Scott "looking for business opportunities" plus a few working at the "big picture" level with the CFO. Knowles has a handful of business analysts reporting to him and brings in others when required. For example, he currently has some business analysts working on a business continuity issue.

"We tend not to have a whole harvest of business analysts because we don't want to be wedded to current practices," explains Knowles. In one recent situation, a business analyst was brought in to examine how the use of new tape-free cameras might impact on the ABC's data network. "One of our analysts spent a couple of months looking at workflow and storage requirements then generated some respectable costs involved. We sent that to finance and their business analyst looked at whether it stacked up from a business viewpoint."

The business analysts looking at business continuity have also spent a couple of weeks working with ABC journalists to understand workflow. "Once they understand the current workflow they can examine what technology solutions might do for improving workflow, the impact on skills, recruitment and training." Once that analysis is complete, Knowles says, a fuller business case can be created seeking input from a range of stakeholders, for example technology, management and human resources.

"It has to be very holistic," he says. "There are applications that are run-of-the-mill that can bear casual analysis but when it comes to applications converging on the network, more and more it has to run to carrier quality — to five nines."

Knowles says that the use of information systems-focused business analysts at the ABC has matured over the past five years. "Up until then there was very little relationship between broadcast and IT and some of the IT stuff was pretty pedestrian," he admits. There is no longer room for that, and business analysts understand the ramifications of their decisions where in broadcast, one minute of silence or black is quite serious and they need to design architecture to withstand any problems.

To do that the BAs need a deep understanding of the business. Knowles outplaces his BAs to work in particular support divisions and even to do the job. "I've had one BA working in TV production and scheduling trying to learn about the business. I think unless you do that the analysis is superficial. You need to be able to ask the appropriate questions."

That deep understanding of the business is particularly important for organizations where the network not only supports but is the business, he says. "There are plenty of people who can develop a technical solution and define the problem properly. If you run a traditional IT house then IT is a service function that we complain about when it doesn't work. If IT is an integral part of the business then the analysis has to be much deeper."

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