The Rise of the Business Analyst — Again

When I got into the IT business years ago, I thought the business analyst was the most pivotal person in the whole profession. That was the person who was the bridge between business and technology, the one who could see and understand both sides and whose goal was to apply technology to support business initiatives that would help the company grow revenue or shrink operating costs.

Over the last 20 years, we lost sight of that, as the technology focus began to shift away from IT and toward the business users. The PC dethroned the mainframe and minicomputer. Local-area networks enabled whole companies to run on PCs and servers. The chips powering PCs got more and more powerful, allowing the software to get more full-featured.

Then the Internet hit the big time, and for the past 10 years, we’ve been exploring the many things you can do when you combine people and computers in real-time networks via the Web. But by now, the newness has worn off, and we are back to thinking about that old concern of how to use this stuff to make money. That’s where the business analyst comes in once more.

A lot of IT functions have been outsourced, including data center operations, programming and the help desk. The one function that doesn’t seem to lend itself to outsourcing is business analysis. To effectively look out for their best interests, companies have to analyze their specific challenges and find unique responses to them. If they play the “me too” game of simply doing what everyone else is doing, they will reap no real competitive advantage. Sure, a company can bring in consultants to help and to train its analysts, but it cannot get consistently good results if it outsources the whole analysis function. Why? Because an analyst needs to really understand the company he is working with, and the best way to do that is to live there and be part of it.

I often hear that companies have not developed their business analysis capabilities because they believe that analysts use soft skills that anyone can exercise without much training. I beg to differ.

I was once asked to start up and run a group of business analysts for a company that already had a 100-person IT department. As part of that job, I had to define the specific skills my analysts should have and then put in place a training and career advancement program that would develop those skills. This gave me cause to think carefully about the skills that analysts need and how to develop them.

Here’s what I found:

  • Business analysts must be able to facilitate joint application-design sessions that involve groups composed of both business and technical people. They need to actively include everyone in the sessions and encourage people to contribute their ideas.
  • They need to do process mapping. This is often a very good way to focus the conversations of a group in a design session and provide a big-picture context in which to place people’s ideas.
  • They need to apply data modeling to organize the data flowing through the business processes they are designing. By this I mean logical data modeling (not the creation of physical data models in fourth normal form).

Once analysts have facilitated group design sessions, created process flow diagrams and organized the relevant data into a logical data model, they must pull this all together and create the user interface for the system that will drive the activities in the process flow and handle the data in the data model. This is where analysis turns into synthesis, and where the design of any new system emerges. And as ifall that weren’t enough, good analysts must also be skilled at system testing, user training and even project management.

Soft skills? These are some of the hardest skills to master in the whole IT profession. And companies need good business analysts now more than ever if they are going to thrive in our fast-changing global economy.

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10 Responses to “The Rise of the Business Analyst — Again”

  1. Chris Johnson Says:

    Hi,

    An interesting article that I think a lot of people will relate to. At the company I work for we are just coming around to the need for some sort of Business Analyst role as we currently don’t have one (and never have).

    It has been very much as you say, where it has been a case of playing around with new technologies and then when the funding dries up for some of these projects there is a bigger need for reducing costs and maximising profits.

    Of course, without ever having a business analyst role I’m not too sure how we start and develop a place for the role. I’m sure it will be hugely beneficial to us but the problem is that without anyone having done this before it’s a case of having a guinea pig and hoping for the best.

    Reply

  2. NDUKU ASANDA Says:

    hi,

    let me first thank you you for opening my eyes. you know I only thought that being a business analyst is only about helping the business with its information system problems and that you only needed to be a pro in computors and infomation system, I did not know that you have to have all of this skills. so thanks very much. I’m currently studing to become one myself. I’m in my first year. Wish me good luck. Hope to even proceed to became a BUSINESS ARCHITECTURE someday. you are the best

    Reply

  3. asif Says:

    should BA do Six Sigma or will six sigma will increase capabilities of BA

    Reply

  4. Nityaa Says:

    HI ,

    I am currently into ITIL domain.I want to shift to BA.Could you kindly guide me on that

    Reply

  5. Jignesh Upadhyay Says:

    Hello Jeffery,

    I want to make career in BA, Kindly show me the Way. Where Can i get training and placement & all.

    please revert me.

    Reply

    • Yash Says:

      It depends your skill with company process, anybody who understands his company and excellence process knowledge will certainly can be a BA. In my opinion you don’t need to get trained or certified overall many companies look forward for them who been with them and know the process.

      Reply

  6. Roxie Ren Says:

    I think the industry is cyclical. Whilst to Business Analysts always (well in theory *should* always) have a role to play, it is not until people have experienced first hand a disasterous project where the role was lacking that anything will get done about it.

    In smaller software development teams perhaps you can get away withoutn the position but whatever your size I think that outsourcing business analysis is one of the most foolish things you can do – you end up paying bags of money for someone who doesn’t understand the company to tell developers about your company. It just won’t end well!

    Reply

  7. Vernon Zwiers Says:

    I absolutely agree with that. I have written a book that I hope will achieve exactly that goal – that the Business Analyst is key to any successful projects in ways that most companies have not yet even realized.

    So much so that the book is being used at higher educational institutes as their curriculum here in South Africa.

    The book is called “The Business Analyst Information Technology’s Paradigm Shift” there is more info on the website.

    Reply

  8. Kell C Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. BA is really just a catch all, encompassing the elicitation, drafting of business, functional, and non functional requirements, and all the steps along the way that lead to implementation. Along the way they guarantee that the project is worth doing, making sure each feature that is being described is also traceable to a real and vital business need.

    Here’s a set of guiding principles I’ve found useful when assessing BA requirement deliverables: http://requirements.seilevel.com/blog/2012/04/requirements-architecture-part-1-what-is-requirements-architecture-and-why-is-it-important.html

    Reply

  9. john seagram Says:

    Came across a couple of other good articles here as well. Definitely demand for the role in the future.

    http://www.businessanalystcv.com/resources/general-articles-and-news/

    Reply

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