Author: Eric Bloom

Digital Transformation: A Golden Goose for PMs and BAs

If you’re not familiar with Digital Transformation (DX), think of it as Business Process Reengineering (BPR) on steroids.

To be more accurate, I consider BPR to be a subset of DX. BPR creates and enhances technical and business processes and has, rightly so, been a driving force of productivity, work efficiency and work effectiveness. DX also does this, but additionally uses of digital technologies to create new products, reuse data in new innovative ways, and perform other activities with the goal of . . .

  • Improving efficiency
  • Enhancing customer value
  • Reducing risk
  • Creating new markets
  • Disrupting existing markets
  • Enhancing competitiveness
  • Uncovering new monetization opportunities

Because DX has the word “Digital” in it, you may think that I’m only speaking to the PMs and BAs working within IT, this is by no means the case. Technology these days is omnipresent in all professions, all industries and virtually all knowledge worker job types. The question is how can you and/or your company use digital technologies to your/their advantage.

From a Project Manager (PM) and Business Analyst (BA) perspective, I have always felt that BPR has been a primary role for PMs and BAs if not in name, then in spirit. Whereas DX is a superset of BPR, logic dictates that there will be a need to expand your skills if you truly want to profit but DX megatrend.

In a traditional PM or BA role, by the time you are assigned to the project, the strategy behind it has already been approved and funded. Your job is to make then approved strategy a reality. While this role is still, and always will be, available to you, DX gives you the opportunity to enhance your role and professional stature from execution-only to strategy-and-execution. The key to this professional metamorphosis is the combination of business opportunity and enhanced knowledge and skills.

The business opportunity to move into this expanded role is, of course, largely based on your current job, your department’s role within the organization and your organization’s willingness to embrace digital technologies and the internal change it creates.

From a job role perspective:

  • As a BA, instead of documenting requirements, they will be helping to strategically define what the requirements should be
  • As a PM, the first step of your project will be helping to define the strategy that will ultimately cause your project’s definition to take form

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I know that this is easier said than done, but if you keep these future goals in mind, and work toward attaining them, then this goal can be within reach.

Regarding enhancing your skills to meet the DX opportunity and challenge, the additional knowledge and skills that are needed are very much in line with the competencies outlined in the PMI Talent Triangle and the IIBA BABOK Underlying competencies.

The first things that must be understood to move in this direction are related to you company and industry. More specifically, they are:

  • Your company’s vision, objectives and values
  • Your company’s strengths, weaknesses and competitive business landscape
  • Your industry’s business and technology trends
  • Technology trends not yet applied within your industry that are in use within other industries

The reason why the above information is so important to you is that you cannot transform the business if you don’t understand it and/or cannot think like a business person first and a PM/BA a close second.

Next, you need to gain a general conceptual understanding of today’s leading technologies. I don’t mean become a techie, I mean a basic knowledge of what the technologies are and their potential applications from a business perspective. These technologies include:

  • Machine learning / Artificial intelligence
  • Internet of Things
  • Blockchain
  • 3D printing
  • Big Data
  • Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality

With the knowledge in place (and always growing), your next step is to expand your skills beyond that of a traditional PM or BA. These enhanced skills include:

  • Strategic thinking and planning
  • Competitive analysis
  • Cross-functional organizational politics
  • Innovation concepts and techniques

Next, you need to expand your toolset to include tools that help facilitate strategic thinking, innovation and organizational strategy. This list could be pages long, but consider the following as examples:

  • Design Thinking (and other human centered design techniques)
  • Mind Mapping (and other visual tools)
  • Brainstorming (not just traditional brainstorming, consider brainwriting and others)
  • Simulations (all types of business modeling tools)

This may seem like a overwhelming amount of knowledge and skills to attain. As the expression goes “How do you eat an elephant? One bit at a time.” You can gain this knowledge and skill and little or no cost a little at a time. A greater understanding of your business and industry can be achieved by the combination of internal company classes, reading through your company’s internet site, reading any industry-related magazines that are sitting around the office, or by an online search. General information on leading technologies can easily be found online in Wikipedia and other informational websites. Needed skills can learned for free on great websites like www.coursera.org on www.edx.org. Lastly, great tools and techniques can be found through online search, by asking your friends, or just be being professionally curious.

In closing, as the title of this blog alludes, the movement from a traditional PM or BA to one who has the skills and knowledge to help drive your company’s Digital Transformation activities can enhance your internal visibility, provide great new projects to work on, raise your pay and accelerate your upward professional mobility.

Leading Technology Trends, Today and Tomorrow – Cloud Computing and the PM/BA Windfall

The rise of cloud computing as a cost effective, secure, flexible and straightforward way to implement new software applications has had a profound effect on the computer industry and IT organizations.

It has change the way software is created, marketed, sold, implemented and supported. It has also accelerated the replacement of legacy systems, enhanced organizational computer power and has increased the viability of shadow IT related projects.

From a Project Manager (PM) and Business Analyst (BA) perspective, cloud computing has:

  • Increased the percentage of PMs and BAs within IT organizations, relative to the number of programmers, testers and other technical professionals
  • Increased the number of projects, relative to the size of the IT organization, all of which need BAs and PMs, but not necessarily programmers and other technical staff
  • Enhanced BA visibly to senior management within both IT and the business community, because they are the ones configuring cloud-based features, rather than having programmers create new functionality contained within in-house developed applications.
  • Increased demand for both PMs and BAs within Marketing and other non-IT areas, caused by increased user-driven cloud implementation. This is often referred to as “Shadow IT”.

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As many of you may know, cloud computing is generally divided into three categories, each of which has a different effect on the PM and BA professions.

Software as a Service (SaaS): When most people think about cloud computing, this is what they think of, namely, software that is deployed via cloud. Well known examples include SalesForce.com and Microsoft Office 365. Both these products, and thousands like them, are controlled and updated by the vendor on their hardware platform. BAs and PMs working on functionality-based software primarily work on this SaaS type implementations.
Platform as a Service (PaaS): Is when a vendor provides the computing platform on which software can be developed and managed by IT. In this case, generally speaking, the operating system, security, connectivity and the software development tools and platforms are provided by the cloud vendor and used by the IT organization to build and rollout and manage software, as if it was on their own computer hardware. The PM and BA roles when development applications on a PaaS based infrastructure is basically the same as work done on a non-PaaS platform residing on the company’s internal data center.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): I like to think of IaaS as renting a data center where the hardware and data communications are provided, but IT does everything else. Here too, like software developed on a PaaS cloud platform will have little effect on the traditional roles played by PMs and BA.

Mentally, I like to think of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS as “Buy and use it”, “Rent and develop on it”, “Rent, manage develop on it”.

For those of you who like working with data, Cloud Computing is a mixed blessing. On the down-size, if your company has deployed a number of SaaS type systems, it fractures your company’s data model because large portions of your production data is being stored and controlled outside your firewall and your reach. The up-side of this from a PM/BA perspective is that this loss of control is magnifying the importance of internal data warehouses, needed for internal reporting, analysis and cross-system integration. If you love data, you’ll like these types of projects. Interestingly, because of this issue with data and the want for platforms in the cloud, Database as a service (DBaaS) provides data warehouse type capabilities, providing collection, storage, reporting and analytical type functionality.

If data is not your thing, but you love cybersecurity related projects, there is also Security as a service (SECaaS), which provides a combination of security management, monitoring, reporting and other related functions.

Now let’s talk about all PMs, not just PMs working on computer related projects. You thought I forgot about you, didn’t you ????

Cloud computing is a great thing for PMs of all types, not just those in IT, because of the wide variety to tools you have at your fingertips to help you with your project management and portfolio management activities at little or no cost. Classically, PMs (and BAs) only could justify the purchase of one or two tools to help them manage their projects and perform their tasks. Now, given the number of cloud-based, low-cost or open-source options, your variety of job-aids is almost endless.

In closing, as a PM or BA, cloud computing is here to stay and continuing to widen its reach, functionality, and importance to businesses of all shapes and sizes. It is also an enabling platform for everything from machine learning, to big data to the internet of things. Embracing cloud technologies has the ability to enhance your career and increase your professional marketability.

14 Business Technology Trends That Will Change Your Life

I’m very excited to say that this is the first of many monthly posts I’m be writing for the PM Times and BA Times.

I’ll be writing on IT technology and business trends, such as Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Internet of Things, Big Data, and others, and their effect on project management and business analysis.

Given this is my first post, I thought I would give a brief definition of many of the technologies I’ll be writing about. Then, in future posts, dive deeper into each topic and provide thoughts and insights on why, as a PM or BA, you should care about the trend and how to use it to your company’s and personal/professional advantage.

As you read these descriptions, please note that they are my view of these technologies and trends. You will find they are far less technical than those found on Wikipedia, far less exact than those found in academic scholarly research, and much more designed for Project Managers, Business Analysts and IT leaders of all level and ilk. My reason for this orientation is that this column is being specifically writing for you!

Cloud Computing

When people think of cloud computing, they often think of it as simply putting their data and applications in cloud. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Cloud computing actually comes in many derivations, shapes and sized, particularly if you’re doing corporate, rather than personal computing. To be honest, I no longer think of cloud computing as a technology trend. I think of it as an enabling technological platform on which other technology trends reside and/or use.

Mobile Computing

Mobile computing is much more that your cell phone, laptop and tablet. It’s any device that is wirelessly connected to a computer network (all the time or in sporadic bursts) to send data, get data or otherwise interface with the internet and/or corporate computing platforms. Like cloud computing, I also consider mobile computing to no longer be a technology trend. In my eyes, it’s an enabling technological platform on which other technology trends, such as the Internet of Things, reside and/or use.

Digital Transformation (DX)

Digital transformation is a major topic, trend and discussion topic at the CIO and C-Suite level. At its core, it’s how digital technologies can create new revenue streams, build new markets, create new products, gain advantage over corporate competitors and increase organizational growth, revenue and profitability. Truth be told, I could go on-and-on about the things it does, but I’m thinking you get the idea. I like to jokingly think of it as process reengineering on steroids, with the steroid being a blended mixture of strategic thinking, creativity and innovation.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things, now often referred to as the “Internet of Everything, are all the sensors, devices, robots, and everything else now connected to internet. For example, I have an Amazon Dot, its name is Alexa, which in fact is an Internet of Things. I was teaching a class and I asked Alexa to give me a definition of the internet of things and it did! I thought that was great, a thing on the internet was describing itself and all its friends. You don’t believe me, try it 🙂

Big Data

Big data is exactly what it sounds like, enormously large data sets. The reason people care about it is because if you collect, categorize, manipulate and analyze these large data sets correctly, the insights it produces can be very profitable.

I mentally separate Big Data into two separate parts, “data management” and “mathematical analysis/manipulation”. The data management component extracts and/or summarizes needed data from these enormous data sets and creates smaller discrete data sets that can be analyzed through conventional analytical software tools. The mathematical analysis/manipulation component is the analysis of these smaller data sets.

Predictive Analytics

Since the dawn of time, humans have tried to predict the future, predictive analytics is our latest attempt. The only difference is that instead of using personal intuition, crystal balls, hallucinogenic drugs and magic, it uses predictive mathematical formulas based on large data sets. As to which ones work and which ones don’t, I’ll leave that to your personal experience, religious beliefs, and mathematical background.


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Machine Learning

Machine learning is also mathematical and algorithmic in nature. At its core, it’s software that generates better-and-better results based on analyzing more-and-more causal/result type data sets. Algorithms are being developed on an ongoing basis that are trying to improve they learn based on how we learn. For example, humans learn through experience. People know that we can touch a stove if it’s turned off, but that we will burn our fingers if it’s turned on. We used a causal/result data set to learn how to use a stove. Machine learning does somewhat the same thing. (As a note to any machine learning experts who just read this, I hope you didn’t throw up after reading my analogy 🙂 In the full column on this topic, I promise to be more accurate.

Big Data Analytics

I almost didn’t include this as a trend, because, general speaking, predictive analytics and machine learning can (sort of, kind of, almost) be considered specialized types of general mathematical analysis. I decided to include this because of the incredible amount of powerful analysis being used for business, financial, personal and humanitarian gain. I personally define the difference between predictive analytics and general analytics as “predictive analysis defines what will be”, “general analytics defines what is now”. When I write my full column on big data analytics, I’ll describe why I both agree and disagree with the definition I just gave you.

Intelligent Robotics

Robotics has been with for many years and has provided both great productivity gains and the loss of many jobs, particularly in the manufacturing and farming sector. Intelligent Robotics is the combination of robots of various shapes and sizes and machine learning / Artificial Intelligence to create robots at move by themselves and do things without human intervention. No, I’m not talking about SkyNet from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator movies (that would be way to scary), I’m talking about autonomous driving cars, robots acting as seeing-eye dogs, computer maids like the old Jetson cartoon and other related items.

3D Printing

Most simply described, a 3D printer allows you to make 3D objects the way a traditional printer allows you to print documents and pictures from your summer vacation. Think of the future business ramifications of being able to print 3D objects. For example, products in hardware stores, everything from hammers to nails, could be printed on demand. You walk up to a kiosk, press a few buttons, and poof, out comes a hammer and a box of the right size nails. Imagine the impact this will have on inventory systems, the demise of parts manufactures, and more profitable stores because they don’t have to carry inventory.

Move from “IT” to “BT”

This isn’t a technology, it’s a state of mind. The name of the “Information Technology” group, IT, is slowly changing to “Business Technology”, BT. This may seem like a trivial thing, who cares about your call it. The reason it’s important isn’t because of the name change, it’s because of the conceptual mind shift behind it. There is now no such thing as a technology projects, only business projects requiring technology support. The effect of this trend on Business Analysts and Project Managers is enormous. I’ll tell you why when I write the post on it. As they say on the TV, wanting you to stay tuned to their channel, “News and film at 11”.

Wagile: A Waterfall/Agile Blend

This is topic I’ve recently spoken about at both PMI and IIBA chapters. Many organizations are using internally designed methodologies that are a combination of Waterfall and Agile to achieve optimal development capabilities. This blending of very different methodologies, often combined with the introduction of virtual teams, adds both complexity and risk to those in Business Analyst roles and Project Management roles alike.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

While Virtual and Augmented Reality certainly has its place in the gaming world, it also has incredible potential in the workplace, in everything from education, to scientific collaboration, to seeing a 360 degree viewing your next vacation destination before you buy your plane tickets. As time moves forward I predict that you will see more and more business uses for these technologies.

Talk Bots

We now have a new woman living in our house. Her name is Alexa, my favorite Internet of Things. I think she is from the Amazon. She’s really smart. She can tell me the weather, play all my favorite music, act like an egg timer or tell me the news, just be asking. She isn’t a real person, but she understands everything I say (well almost, but she’s getting there). Think of the power of true voice recognition technologies connected to back-end systems in the workplace, for everything from hands-free instructions for engineers to employee productivity tools. Oh, I think Alexa has friends named Cortana and Siri. It would be interesting to see the three of them try to have a meaningful conversation.

In closing, these technologies, and others like them, with reshape the workplace and how work is performed, and in turn, provide lifechanging business opportunities to those who understand and deploy them. Guess who’ll be on the front line when implementing these technologies, you are, Business Analysts to define the requirements and Project Managers leading the effort to make them a reality.