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Role of a Business Analyst

This article aims to share with the readers what it means to be a Business Analyst and people who are exploring this career path can hopefully gain some insight from this piece.

A Business Analyst is commonly perceived to be a ‘Conduit’ between the IT and Business units of an organization. Simply defined, a Business Analyst is a professional who carries out Business Analysis. Over the years, this role has evolved to more than just a ‘Translator’ of requirements. In the current scenario, BAs are involved in understanding business needs, problems and opportunities and providing recommendations and solutions to meet the business objectives, most of the times within the context of Information Technology.
The role that a BA is expected to play will largely depend on the kind of the project on hand and the IT team in place. The role of a business analyst is quite fluid and can assume different shapes based on the project requirements. Certain projects would require the BA to be savvy with the technology being used (although as a practice, the requirement gathering phase would be independent of the platform), while others like process reengineering projects may require the BA to be more of a domain expert.
Key Responsibilities of a BA:
The primary responsibilities of a BA across projects would comprise of all or most of the following:
  • Scoping the project: Understanding project scope and objectives. Ensuring that all the stakeholders concur on the scope of the project
  • Business Requirement Analysis: This process involves elicitation of requirements, analysis and Documentation. The BA is primarily involved in gathering, categorizing and organizing requirements into logical sections and then prioritizing them based on the business needs. Here the BA is also expected to provide value-add by helping business to analyze and prioritize its requirements to some extent. Business requirements are usually gathered through available reading material, user interviews, existing system documents, observations, group interviews etc
  • Requirement Specification and Documentation: Requirements documentation will form the backbone of the project, as all further development will refer to these documents. Requirements could be represented by way of BR documents (in plain English), visual diagrams like Use Cases, Process Maps and Data Flow Diagrams depending on the audience that is going to consume these documents.
  • Coordination with the development team: BAs are also expected to liaise with the development team to ensure that the requirements are correctly understood before the development of the system begins. 
  • Testing: BAs are also usually involved in Unit Testing, Integrated Testing, Functional Testing
Knowledge and Skills required:
  • Business Requirement Analysis - Knowledge on requirement gathering and analysis methodologies like UML, Process Mapping techniques like Flowcharting, IDEF etc respectively would be desirable. The person should be exposed to atleast one of the industry standards.
  • Process Mapping Skills – The BA should have the ability to understand and model as-is as well as future state processes. Various methodologies are followed across the industry and being skilled in atleast one of them would help in making disciplined process maps.
  • Domain knowledge – A basic understanding of the project domain is required for an effective requirement analysis
  • Communication and Documentation Skills - Clarity and crispness in communication is a virtue that the BA should posses, for verbal as well as written communication. Project scope is a controversial topic always and the BR documents act as a fallback for any dissention that arises during the project life cycle.
  • Analytical Skills & Foresight - BAs should have the ability to carry out an in-depth requirement analysis. Foresight should be employed while evaluating and prioritizing requirements and end users usually are not equipped to do this by themselves. Business Requirements also change with the pace that business changes today, and scope / change management becomes a challenge for almost every project. In order to manage and incorporate changes effectively, impact analysis skills would prove to be very helpful. Also, while interviewing end users, the BA should be able to strike a balance between retaining the focus on the project scope and ensuring that all aspects of the project scope are covered.
  • IT Skills – It is desirable that BAs possess at least a high level knowledge about software applications and architectures, RDBMS concepts, Software Development Life Cycle and Project Management methodologies.
Qualification background:
As far as qualifications are concerned, there is no one particular course/degree available for Business Analysts. The role itself has evolved over a period of time and still does not have a consolidated body of knowledge as other streams like Project Management do. (Project Management Institute for instance). Although, recently there have been quite a few initiatives like the IIBA which aim to bring consistency, knowledge sharing and consolidation in the BA community. A lot of books and online articles are also available, but experience in this walk of life teaches like no other.
Business Analysts can stem from various units of an organization – finance, IT, business user groups. A person with an inclination towards a Techno-Functional Role and with at least a high level understanding of IT capabilities can be a potential candidate for the Business Analyst role. Domain knowledge may not be a pre-requisite for beginners but is considered as a nice-to-have factor.
Career Path:
Competency development in this field is not burdened with the threat of stagnation, atleast if one has chosen the right organization. Although, a point worth mentioning here is that there are quite a few organizations where BAs are looked upon as ‘creatures’ with obscure profiles. This is because a BA’s role does not always fit into standard functions like ‘Finance’, ‘Marketing’, ‘Operations’ and also not purely into ‘IT’. Whether BAs should have a separate department or not, is a debate by itself. So increasing awareness about this role is something that is desirable.
As a BA matures, there are two to three streams that one can choose from. A logical extension for a BA would be Project Management or Consulting, depending on the competency set. Also, with the increasing advances in technology and technological needs, specialization is emerging to be an anchor for a BA. BAs could be specializing in industries like BFSI, manufacturing, and logistics; in horizontals like Business Intelligence, BPM, CRM etc; or in products like SAP, Siebel where BAs are employed to gather requirements, customize the application and be part of the implementation team.
This entry was published on Aug 02, 2007 / Priya. Posted in Roles and Responsibilities. Bookmark the Permalink or E-mail it to a friend.
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