olly - Fotolia

How business analysts can bring a human touch to IT change programmes

Aviva business analyst David Beckham is keynoting at the Innovation, Business Change & Technology Forum on how his profession can help IT and other workers through trauma of change programmes

Business analysts should act as the “conscience of the organisation”, as diplomats who bring a human touch to the trauma are often involved in change management programmes.

David Beckham, who advances these ideas, is a senior business analyst at insurance company Aviva, and he will be keynoting at this week’s Innovation, Business Change & Technology Forum conference, in London.

Beckham was diagnosed with the neuro-degenerative Parkinson’s disease in 2010, at the age of 43, and has drawn lessons from the trauma of his diagnosis that he thinks other IT professionals can learn from to manage the condition. “I’d rather not have gotten Parkinson’s, but it has enabled me to see and appreciate what is important,” he says.

At this week’s conference in London, he will explain the personal impact Parkinson’s had on him and how it has deepened his understanding of the way change works.

Beckham has been working at Aviva since 1986, and has been involved in a swathe of major change programmes, which, in recent years have been governed by agile principles oriented towards digital transfomation. A major part of that is data consolidation. “We have a huge amount of data, and are focused on using that more creatively and more consistently,” he says.

He was a founder member of Aviva’s Business Analysis Practice when it was formed in Aviva IT, and has had two terms as the practice lead.

Since his diagnosis, he has specialised in coaching business analysts. What, in his view, is the role of the business analyst today? How does it stand out from being an IT professional?

For more about culture and IT change management

There are 110 or so business analysts at Aviva in the UK, and Beckham estimates that analysts make up 5-10% of the IT department in a typical corporate organisation. Always, then, a small group, but a big lever given their position between IT and what is usually, in the IT community, referred to as “the business”.

“Traditionally, it has been between a rock and a hard place, taking conversation back and forward from IT and the business,” says Beckham. “It is a diplomatic role: you are a specialist in generalism. The trick is to know how to ask the question that means the business outcome of an IT change programme will be more effective and efficient.”

Beckham has sought to turn the experience of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s to account in his coaching of business analysts at Aviva, as well as in his conference presentations. “I’m promoting the idea of ‘comfortable trauma’. In other words, don’t wait until something bad happens, as you can change when you want to.”

Mapping the stages of a trauma

Beckham argues for the value of mapping the stages of a trauma, such as a life-changing diagnosis or the death of family member or spouse, on to change programmes. Workers at the sharp end of change will go through stages of shock, denial, anger, depression, acceptance and so on in the same manner of a bereaved person. The role of a business analyst is as much to help people through such change as it is to draw up plans for change in the abstract.

“Those of us who work in change-related professions are continually assisting people through transformation, whether it be what the customer does, how they do it or even whether they do it in the future,” he says. “In most cases, the need for change is a positive one, but it can be an unsettling and even frightening experience.”

He likes to use two change models – the Change Curve and the Hero’s Journey. The former brings to the fore the need for communication, support and guidance. “It is not a therapy, but you need to be aware that people will be shocked and they are going through a process.”

The Hero’s Journey

The Hero’s Journey, as enunciated by US scholar of mythology Joseph Campbell in 1948, instantiates the model of a hero going on a journey of adventure, where he or she encounter obstacles, earns victory in a crisis and returns transformed. For Beckham, this is about being very people-focused and putting an emphasis on the human side of change. “It has helped me with my diagnosis,” he says. “It’s helped me do this very interview.”

“I believe everyone has a skill. When they exercise it, they are ‘in the zone or flow’, and come to influence people around them and communicate more powerfully. If you try to focus, by contrast, on making people more broad, you are missing the chance to let them do what they are really good at.”

Beckham describes the role of business analyst as being the keeper of the “conscience of the organisation”. Sometimes, efficiency in one area of the business may not be best for the business overall. For instance, having a duplicate piece of data might suit the work of one department, but be ruinously expensive multiplied on the scale of 15 million customers.

“Asking the right question at the right time can save a huge amount of money,” he says. “As a business analyst, there is no point in being shy, and that is hard for young business analysts learning their craft.”

The main piece of advice Beckham has for business analysts – and other IT professionals, for that matter – is to “dance while you can”.

Read more on CW500 and IT leadership skills