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How Business Analysis Can Help Educational Institutions Adapt to Change

In an unprecedented global shutdown, colleges and universities have been forced to become more agile in their online learning strategy in response to business disruption from COVID-19.

Looking ahead for a solution, many higher education providers have grappled with the decision of how they will deliver classes in September. Students are wondering the same thing. Will their campus re-open for the 2020-21 school year? It all depends on the COVID-19 curve.

This is where business analysis skills are critical for college and university administrators to make a smooth transition to online learning for staff, professors, suppliers, partners and most importantly – students. Business analysts have played a key role in providing the right data, gathering requirements by actively listening to understand the stakeholders needs and asking the right questions to help decision makers develop an effective response to the crisis. What training and support would teachers need to move their courses online, how will testing and exams be managed, how will schools ensure students have access to the technology for online learning, how will schools address the needs of international students, how will schools securely deliver teaching and testing; these are all important questions that had to be answered.

In a poll of more than 700 US colleges, The Chronicle reported 67% are planning for an in-person fall semester, 11% are considering a range of scenarios, 10% are undecided, 6% are proposing a hybrid model and 6% are planning to deliver their courses online in the fall.1

Using the Business Capability Analysis technique covered in chapter 10.6 of the BABOK® Guide, published by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), a business analyst can evaluate what the academic institution does and can do in the operational context to build use cases to help meet the school’s online learning goals. Looking at business processes, application systems, business information, resources, and current and future students’ needs to determine how to securely deliver courses online, these data points help decision makers fully understand their institution’s and stakeholders’ needs to decide if they will re-open their campus, plan for online or choose a hybrid model.

Benefits of eLearning

With nearly three million studentscurrently enrolled in fully online programs and six million taking at least one online course as part of their degree, online education has clearly become one of the most popularhigher education alternatives.2  

So, is COVID-19 the turning point for higher education to move towards the financial benefits of online learning? In a report from McKinsey & Company the uncertainty for higher education is explored. ‘Given the uncertainty in the epidemiological and economic outlooks, they [US higher education] must start asking themselves questions about the medium- and long-term implications for teaching, learning, the student experience, infrastructure, operations, and staff. Disciplined scenario planning can help.”3


In The Agile Extension To The BABOK® Guide, The Elements Chapter 7.17.3 [Interactive Edition For IIBA Members], Outlines Scenarios That Business Analysts Can Use To Identify All Possible Situations Where The Student Will Interact With The Solution [Online Learning And In-Person Learning Or A Hybrid Model], What Is The Desired Outcome, The Likelihood Of The Scenario Occurring And The Complexity Involved In The Scenario. Using Storyboards To Visually Illustrate The Solution And How The Student Will Interact With It Makes The Solution Easy To Understand For The Decision Makers. Typical Storyboards Involve A Series Of Boxes Or Segments Depicting Each Step In The Scenario Along With Text Explanations For Each Step And Validating The Storyboard Assumptions With Stakeholders To Ensure Accuracy And Alignment With Their Needs.

The online program marketplace is becoming more competitive and the challenges facing higher education providers are increasing. For academic institutions, moving courses online can reduce the limitations of physical space and lets institutions offer as many classes as they would like each semester, while also addressing the important issue of containing rising costs. Pre-pandemic an Open Doors report found declines in total numbers of enrolled international students in 2018-2019 and continuing declines in new enrollments.4  Coronavirus is expected to lower international student enrollment. Schools are also looking to make part or all of their fall semester online for international and national students already enrolled. Moving courses online means revenue is not limited to students able to physically attend. Without geographic barriers the courses are available to anyone, anywhere.

Listening to stakeholders needs, IIBA has followed best practices from the BABOK® Guide and the Agile Extension to the BABOK® Guide to create a turnkey Academic Program that includes fully accessible online resources for institutions to easily create and develop their own high-demand business analysis programs.

The flexibility of online learning for work/study/home balance allows students to develop their skills on their schedule as they can access course materials at any time. This is beneficial for students who need more time or have different learning needs or styles. Another benefit of online learning is the opportunity to create a community of learners through an online platform that supports online discussions and group work in place of in-class participation. Whether schools use software or a learning management system (LMS) to deliver their curriculum students can complete all mandatory course work as they would in-person.

A survey conducted by The Learning House found that 44% of online students reported improvements in their employment standing, for example by obtaining a full-time job within 12 months of graduation, and 45% reported a salary increase.5

IIBA is currently surveying academic institutions to gather more data about their online course availability and students’ interest. Understanding their strategic focus and capabilities to meet the growing demand for online course availability will provide insight into future initiatives for IIBA’s Academic Program.

Using business analysis tools and techniques can help higher education leaders plan strategically and smartly for both the short-term and longer-term to ensure business agility and continuity in a constantly changing environment.