I have not updated this blog in these several months. Humble apologies. It is certainly not agile practice. However, I have obtained some pivotal insights persuading us that business analysis has vital social purposes.
Right now, business analysis is in the domain of software development and IT adoption. It is the communication of technology for solving business needs. As businesses and their customers use new internet-driven technologies, their operations must operate in kind.
If smartphone apps or operating systems get upgrades every three months, so much business plans, operations and strategies. In an IT-saturated world, nothing is set in stone. Everything is subject to testing. There are no longer any products that stand the test of time. Welcome to agile.
Much of business analysis that I have engaged in and observed is about operation and customer service. These are significant purposes. Of course, any enterprise must operate and serve customers in alignment with current technology. Yet, there arise more pressing questions that hit us at an ontological level.
Everybody uses a smartphone. Everybody is connected to the social-media economy. Everybody expects to undergo continuing education, especially if you don’t want to lose your job. What does it mean? How does the way we work change? How does society change after all? What can we do for those who really have fallen through the cracks?
Moreover, where are we when this digitization of all of life throws more and more vulnerable people onto the street? There have been stories in the media about the decline of work and economic viability for prime-age men. This is an example of a class of people displaced by the new tech-savvy agile hipster class. Without mincing words, this is shameful.
Of course, in good faith with best business analysis practice, I have to propose candidate solutions. I will describe two possible examples of candidates I have engaged with.
YWCA Hotel Vancouver
I have had the immense pleasure of staying at this wonderful hotel a couple times in Vancouver, Canada. The hotel rates are quite affordable, especially in such an expensive world city. Yet that’s not the draw.
The selling point here is that YWCA Hotel Vancouver is a social enterprise. This is not a concept I hear too much right now. The hotel “is a mission-related social enterprise providing affordable accommodations for all travellers and generating revenue that sustains YWCA Metro Vancouver’s community service work.” What are we really looking at here? What model can we represent to encapsulate this description?
Think of the social enterprise as, let’s say, a publicly traded organization. When, for example, you own stock in Microsoft, you are one of millions of public owners of the corporation. A corporation can change policy when a majority of owners vote to dump stock. So investor scrutiny and expectations can really help steer the course.
The same can almost be said of YWCA Vancouver. As a paying guest, you can use your wallet to help YWCA Metro Vancouver help those in need in ways that align with real circumstances appropriate to the environment at present. I don’t know if that’s really true, but I hope that’s an opportunity to thrive. The major implication is that guests who have succeeded in the ever-changing business world can consider using their experience to help YWCA change more lives. I hope that’s a good example of social investment and social enterprise.
I have not seen further evidence that such business-to-social networking is taking place. But by writing this, I am issuing a call for business analysis to engage in social analysis in an agile society.
Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (Seattle)
In August, a brand-new charter middle school is opening in the diverse, multicultural south end of Seattle. Rainier Valley Leadership Academy is the new startup in American public education. It is a member charter school of the Green Dot Public Schools national organization. In the not-so-great capacity of a community representative, I have engaged several times with the school’s principal.
From the few chats I had, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy is proposing an agile, hands-on approach to “prepare every student for high school, college, leadership and life.” As the target student demographic includes many people of color, RVLA is seeking to effectively educate students with a stakeholder approach in mind. Clearly traditional public education is not doing too well in helping minority students succeed, to put it tritely.
In this case, demographics determine any enterprise-wide activity. This is an agile principle of customer-driven business operations. Because of the presence of arguably non-traditional students, agile has entered the classroom.
So watch this space as RVLA prepares to kick off in August.
The Significance of All This?
These examples give inference to a disturbing reality. Our traditional public-services mechanisms are no longer able to provide the services that citizens expect and need. If you learned anything in the last ten years–the global financial crisis and its impact–our tax dollars have little power to make a difference in people’s lives. Soon enough, the government will by attrition exit the welfare business. No wonder why health-care reform in America is a mess.
What exacerbates the enervation of public power is the Uberizing of our society. Suddenly, the traditional authority systems that are supposed to sustain a decent existence for citizens are now outwitted by more nimble, crafty and treacherous digital actors. In other words, a Somali cab driver in Seattle will be quickly driven out of a job by self-driving cars. There comes the gap.
In view of this disruptive picture, I believe business analysts have critical value in helping a society in desperate need. From homeliness to drug addiction to mental health crisis to racial underachievement, the traditional social workers, activists, counselors and other parties are more stuck than ever before. The reason is the flow of services and provisions have radically and absolutely changed. We can barely understand the change that is happening.
This is where business analysis need to come in. Moreover, what we need are social analysts. We need these people now as the scale of change becomes ever more disruptive. YWCA Hotel Vancouver, if it is willing to obtain social analyst capabilities and assets, can pioneer remarkable change. So can Rainier Valley Leadership Academy. Nobody knows where everything will end up. Yet all the unpredictability and flux has to be managed. And that is the job of a business analyst in an agile world.