It is unthinkable that the Information Age
will come to an end in the foreseeable future. However, just like the Agrarian age and Industrial Age came to pass, this era will not be with us forever.
The advances made during this period, from the invention of a telephone line to a smartphone have been revolutionary, and they have contributed to the world as we know it. Similarly, these advances have made it possible for the development of information technology to enable automation of acquiring, storing and processing or transforming data into meaningful information – making it possible for organisations to make huge economic strides.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest human achievements in the ‘Information Age’ remains the invention of computers and the power of computing – and the latter has been increasing at incredible speed over the past decades. This period has consequently lent itself to new careers, especially within computing. Of relevance to this paper is business analysis as a career.
The birth of business analysis
In the early stages of computers, programmers wrote lines of code according to how they understood business or their perception of what was important to business operations. In an attempt to solve a challenge, programmers became ‘analyst programmers’, and later on IT analysts (or systems analysts). However, this did not address the problem of perspective.
There remained a need for someone who would see the world through the eyes of business people, and then translate this world to the programmers so that they could write systems to solve business challenges. The business analyst (BA) was then born as someone who would bridge the gap between IT and business.
While the emergence of this role was meant to solve a business problem, the focus on the particular skills such a person needed was skewed towards IT. The BA was (and is still) expected to assist systems developers to understand the business needs better and to be able to build appropriate systems.
Moreover, to do this effectively, the BA is expected to possess IT skills. He needs to understand the IT world better than he understands the business world. A good BA is, to a large extent, an individual who has a solid technical background and can ‘pick up’ when the software developers are not entirely honest with business regarding the effort required to deliver a solution within the expected deadline.
A business analyst with a systems development background gets more recognition and respect from the systems developers because he quickly ‘gets them’, thus helping to form relationships easier. He can get his business requirements prioritised and delivered faster by the IT teams. Moreover, business analysts may report to a development manager or a CIO. In some organisations, business analysis is a service that IT sells to business, by assigning a BA on a project basis.
While it is an advantage for a business analyst to have a grasp on the technical or architectural landscape of his organisation to make smart product development decisions, this situation is worrying in a number of ways. For instance, the current operating context for the business analyst then becomes systems focused, rather than product development and customer experience focused. The expectation is that the business analyst is always weighing the business initiatives against the technical constraints or architectural lay of the land. By its very nature, this provides a mental constraint to the business analyst and prohibits him from pushing the boundary and being innovative in thinking about the direction of the business - from a product development point of view.
Also, it ends up alienating a business analyst from fulfilling his real business mandate and even drives him further away from the customer – whose existence is the sole justification for companies to trade.
The emergence of the ‘Experience Age.'
As indicated in the first paragraph of this paper, the Information Age is slowly being replaced by the new era, the Experience Age. It is reported that by 2025, a mere seven years away, the ‘virtual reality’ or ‘augmented reality’ experience will be almost close to the new reality. Conscious efforts will be necessary for people to distinguish between the ‘real’ reality and the virtual ‘reality’.
This age will bring with it a complete paradigm shift; from how data is collected, stored and processed, to how data is used to create the augmented reality that will allow customers to ‘experience’ a product or service from the comfort of their couch, and ultimately buy it.
As we transition from the Information Age to the Experience Age, businesses will be under pressure to come up with innovative ways to present their products or services to their customers or target market through ‘virtual’ reality. Some already have embarked on the virtual reality journey, while others still have a long way to go.
The new FNB mobile app uses augmented reality to help the bank’s customers to find partners where they can earn or spend their eBucks - the loyalty programme run by FNB. Some movie houses such as NuMetro have altered their theatres to cater for 4D movies that offer an augmented and virtual reality experience for movie goers.
The decline in voice calls on mobile phones, and the increase in data traffic for video calls via WhatsApp and Skype is also indicative of the experience age. Customers enjoy the experience of seeing each other as they converse over the phone.
The experience age will also be of great benefit to the services market such as the hospitality industry. At the moment, customers can only experience the quality of the service offered by a hotel by physically staying there. However, with advances in technology, the customer can take advantage of virtual reality and experience the hotel without having to travel or check-in.
Currently, marketing drives the decision-making process on which hotel to choose - either through referrals from friends who have stayed there or through information on brochures and the hotel’s website. These touch points may be deceptive and lead to a disappointing real experience.
In the product marketing space, gamification will undoubtedly become one of the dominant ways of introducing the experience age to consumers. Technology will enable games to be created to enhance the customer’s buying experience as opposed to only reading about the product’s benefits and features or seeing the TV ads.
We cannot speak about the experience age and leave out the new buzz word, the Internet of things (IoT). This concept just means that every device with a power switch will be able to hook on to the web. Connectivity to the Internet will not only be exclusive to devices such as laptops, computers and mobile telephones. These devices include cars, televisions and kitchen appliances such as fridges. The ability of these devices to connect to the Internet will also change how we ‘experience’ the world.
Cars will be able to communicate with each other, with traffic lights, and with mobile devices - notifying the person you’re about to meet with that you are running late. Cars will identify congestion caused by road accidents or traffic lights that are out, and recommend alternative routes. Fridges will order milk or various food items from local retailers when sensors observe a shortage. We already see the advances made by smart TV’s which are able to connect to the Internet.
Thus the Internet of Things will be another form of technology through which the ‘experience age’ will be rendered to the consumer.
The impact of the experience age on business analysis
The experience age will force the business analyst, more so than ever, to be closer to business. The focus will have to move from how the IT landscape looks at the architectural level, to how it can be best utilised to provide the most compelling and efficient customer experience.
The success of business will now be determined by how well the customer journey and user experience has been translated to offer real and/or even perceived value for money through ‘virtual experience’.
It will be difficult for the business analyst to be a credible advisor to business without understanding the customer’s needs. Understanding the customer means knowing his pain points, and the reasons why your product or service sells versus your competitors. Therefore, being able to solve their points of pain through systems (automated and manual) that address their needs and provide convenience – for instance, the Uber experience – will play a vital role in success.
As IT Systems will, undoubtedly, form a solid foundation in enabling the capability for rendering ‘virtual experiences’ to consumers,– therefore it will be crucial for a business analyst to be able to forge those good relationships with the system developers. However, his mandate and perspective will have to come from the customer experience perspective. He will also have to ensure that business needs are met as well, regarding priority – and even more so regarding revenue and profitability.
Business exists solely to generate enough revenue to cover operational costs, to make profits and to increase shareholder value. Therefore, whatever activity a company embarks on – either through IT systems or otherwise, the business analyst’s primary responsibility is to ensure maximum value. It is essential for the business analyst to understand this.
The business analyst needs to gain trust to be the main point of reference and act as an advisor for any future business investments – especially if it involves system changes. With the experience age upon us, companies will be extremely exposed to their customers before any sale is made. Therefore, any poor customer value proposition will be detected early and will lead to them going elsewhere.
The business analyst will be required to have excellent negotiation skills – not only to dissuade his business owner against a poorly conceived initiative but also to persuade his IT colleagues to work on an initiative that will bring maximum value to his business.
The relevance of using the IT systems will have to be weighed heavily against business and customer value, so the business analyst will need to challenge and query solution designs that are not geared towards a user-friendly customer experience. This will require confidence and negotiation skills – something the business analyst will need to possess.
Everything will have to centre around two key elements - customer experience and business value. Having said this – the business analyst will still need the systems developers. Therefore a non-hostile way of challenging his stakeholders is key. The aim will not be to alienate the systems developers but to make sure that business value is included in every solution that is developed, with superior customer experience being the ultimate delivery goal.
Without the ability to listen to what the customer wants, what the business challenges are, and what the IT team’s concerns are – the business analyst will not be able to make significant progress in his career, and he will find it hard to endear himself to his business users. It is therefore important that he develop and sharpen his listening skills to ensure that others have a chance to be heard.
It is only by listening to the problems of his business users and what his customers’ needs are that he will have clarity on what problem the product or service he is developing is trying to solve.
The art of influence is a golden skill that every business analyst requires. It is an essential talent that sits right at the top of the list of necessary skills. The business analyst needs to be highly adept at dealing with the business and IT stakeholders, encouraging them rather than forcing them.
Lastly, the Experience Age will bring with it challenges and opportunities for the business analyst. At the heart of it, however, is the ability to deliver value and an enhanced customer experience. After all, customers have choices – it is therefore up to the business analyst to deliver on his business mandate of ‘maximum value’.
Author: Edward Ngubane, Head of Business Analysis, DVT
Edward has been in the IT industry for almost 17 years. During this time he has worked as a systems developer, systems analyst, business analyst, business analyst manager, Head of PMO, Practice Lead (Business Analysis and Architecture) and Head of Business Analysis. He has setup and ran BA CoP’s, developed and mentored a number of business analysts and published papers on the discipline. He holds five degrees, two of which are at the Masters level - the M.Ed (Maths Education) and the MBA (Cum Laude) - both from the University of the Witwatersrand. Over the years he has received numerous awards, and is passionate about the business analysis domain.
Edward Mzwandile Ngubane
Head of Business Analysis : Gauteng, South Africa
Business Enablement Division
Mobile +27 (82) 851 3638