In Toronto, Canada - January 3, 2005: The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) made available components of the world's first Body of Knowledge for Business Analysis. Since then a simple Google search for "business analyst" reveals that these professionals are in high demand. There are openings at banks, telecoms, retailers, insurance and many more industries for business analysts. Education providers namely; B2T Training has emerged worldwide in order to cater for this high demand of professionals who wish to pursue a career in Business Analysis.
What is a Business Analyst?
There have been times when I’m out socializing with peers who are not in the IT industry and the ice-breaker is directed to me “what do you do for a living?”, in response to my answer “I am a Business Analyst”, gets me the reaction of raised eye-brows followed by a slight nod in agreement as if to say, sure I will just pretend to know what that is...
Business Analysis is the set of tasks, knowledge, and techniques required to identify business needs and determine solutions to business problems. Solutions often include a systems development component, but may also consist of process improvement or organizational change to enable the organization to achieve its goals.” (www.theiiba.org).
A BA is best described as a person who acts as the communicator (or bridge) between IT and business units. A BA is responsible for analyzing the business needs of their clients and stakeholders to help identify business problems and propose solutions within the systems development life cycle. The requirements are translated into a usable language for IT developers to utilise when delivering software development projects. Common alternative titles are business systems analyst, systems analyst, and functional analyst, although some organizations may differentiate between these titles and corresponding responsibilities.
BA’s help reduce risk; they are the key to communicating the true business objective to IT. "The business analyst has been around for a while, but just not formally recognized," the IIBA's Barret says. The role is gaining more attention now, she asserts, because of the increasing role IT plays in achieving business goals and the rising cost of failed IT projects. "The business analyst provides quality control and makes sure that you are focusing on the right things," Barret says.
Business Analyst: A Day in the Life
The above sounds simple enough in theory but how easy is it in practice? As a BA you will be exposed to various industries and not to mention a diversity of personality types. Here’s an extract of what typically happens in the real world:
A well known telecommunications provider has just hired you, and you have agreed to a six-month contract to help develop a new system for accounting and budgets. Your day starts by meeting the impatient project manager who already has enough on his plate and doesn’t have the time for small talk with you. You try to get an idea of the background and why it was initiated; before you leave you ensure that you get the contact details and names of all the key players on this project. Luckily for you this is a well structured organization so you are able to find source documentation to start your research, (BA’s are not always this lucky).
You gather all the information needed and setup meetings with stakeholders get more clarity in order to begin defining the business requirements. Unfortunately the Subject Matter Expert (SME) has previously had bad experiences with IT and he tends to be wary of you this makes your task of conducting a JAD workshop very difficult. You eventually manage to find common ground and one by one the stakeholders open up and start contributing to the discussions. Four hours have passed and you decide to close up and schedule a follow up meeting at the end of the week.
After the initial meetings, you start researching the best approaches to data security and disaster recovery. Next, you meet with the in-house developers who will be customizing and debugging some off-the-shelf programs that will be part of the new system. Almost the end of your day and you head back to your computer to populate process diagrams and start working on the Functional Specification Document you need to deliver by the end of this week. Its 4:55pm and your telephone rings, it’s the SME on your project who remembered to inform you before the close of business today that there were a few small changes he would like to make to his initial business case. Once you have noted these you realize that the process flows you spent 2 hours creating are now no longer valid, the SME’s small changes have impacted the entire project, so it’s back to the drawing board for you!
I am sure that many BA’s are able to relate to this scenario at some point in their careers. This validates that although a good BA needs to have IT skills as well as business acumen; those are not nearly enough to get the job done.
What makes a good BA?
There are many factors that influence the standard of a good BA. Here’s to name a few:
- Analytical ability
- Communication (verbal, written)
- Understanding of IT practices, policies, and operating norms.
- Understanding of current and future technical architecture.
- Planning and managing
- Process improvement and change management
- Technical communications
- Knowledge of current, target, and legacy infrastructure and standards
- Understanding what's going on outside; technology and innovation exploration
- Implementing and knowledge of rollout issues
- Applying expertise
- Bias for action
- Problem solving ability
- Serving customers
- Collaborating with others
- Organizational influence
- Quality Assurance
- Influence and Negotiation
- Presentation Skills
- Change/ Scope Management
How do I become a BA?
With all this hype about the future of IT and business leaning towards business analysis, I too joined the bandwagon, riding on this boom of the BA road. Being a mentor to graduates I am posed with the question day in-day out. One of my mentees, Tom came to me boisterous on a Monday morning, saying that he had been reading the latest publication of Computer World magazine which rated an analyst as one of the top 10 paying jobs for now and the next 10 years. Tom wanted to hear from me all about what Business Analysis is about and how he could become one?
Business analysts act on both the business and information technology spheres at once. They can therefore come from either of these backgrounds. Some business analysts have initial training in computers completed with business training, while others have classical business expertise enhanced by technical IT training.
At present universities are not yet training business analysts as such. A few master's level programs exists, but they are mainly designed for professionals who already have some experience under their belt. There are universities who claim to cover Business Analysis as a subject but the description of that qualification will only enable you to perform financial analysis. In order to attain knowledge of the best practices in business analysis you need to ensure that the course is endorsed by the IIBA. (www.theiiba.org).
Business analysts often end up in this role by accident, as their careers evolve. They are perhaps called on to work jointly with the business or computer department, and end up linking the two. Two major sources of BA professionals can therefore be considered: the computer world (e.g. architects, developers) and the business world.
What is the best background for becoming a business analyst? The debate is still ongoing in the community. Both have their qualities and their faults—computer people have a tendency to anticipate the solution while mangers sometimes lack the knowledge to interact with IT.
I believe that good business analysts are above all specialists in business analysis. They have backgrounds in both disciplines and act as a bridge between the two worlds.
Author: Thirusha Chetty, consultant, IndigoCube South Africa
For more information on IIBA certifications: www.b2ttraining.com
For a B2T Training provider in South Africa: www.indigocube.co.za