WHAT IS A BUSINESS ANALYST?
Today the term Business Analyst is synonymous with a career in the IT industry but the most successful and valuable analysts are those who understand the “business" rather than those who understand IT.
So what exactly is a Business Analyst? What is the Business Analyst’s role? What is the best background for this job? What skill set is required? What type of person is the best fit? What training is required and available? Each organisation seems to have its own ideas about the role, skills, responsibilities and expectations. Given the importance of the job, a common definition would assist both practitioners and employers. In this second part we look at typical background requirements for a Business Analyst, and their job role.
In our experience the most successful B. A. 's are those with formal, structured education and training. Business administration and similar qualifications are certainly helpful, but not essential. Similarly, a qualification in a computing topic, while helpful is not essential. Professionalism is not widely sought-after or recognised, and most B. A. ’s are not members of the ACSiii (Australian Computer Society).
A broad experience of business is required, the more varied, the better. Business experience in insurance, HR, banking, retail, manufacturing, processing and technology industries, etc. is transferable, no matter what the recruiters might say.
The B. A. has to get along with everyone, maintaining good relationships at all levels from senior management to junior staff. They must be able to understand the business objectives and be able to quickly prioritise their work, so that they do not spend undue time on the small things before they’ve sorted out the main issues. They must be analytical and be able to deal with the abstract; this is most important. They must be good with detail, and tenacious – following issues through to conclusion. They must be good organisers and good with their own time management. Above all, they must be excellent communicators, able to reduce the complex to the understandable. An often under-rated skill is listening.
'You have two ears and one mouth. I suggest that you use them in that proportion’. G. K. Chesterton
Computer programmers sometimes make the move to an analysis role, not always successfully. Programming requires a particular personality - comfortable with detail and logical precision. Business analysis is more of the big picture. It is a rare individual that is comfortable – and competent – in both areas.
Today’s Business Analyst – the job role
At the core of the Business Analyst’s skills are process modelling, requirements gathering and requirements specification. However, because the B. A. has a highly visible role in the project, the expectations from clients, colleagues and the organisation are often far higher and extend through the life of the project:
In the project initiation phase, the B. A. may be expected to investigate, formulate & agree terms of reference, and etablish relationships.
In the analysis and specification phase, the B. A. may be expected to investigate business systems, to establish & agree business requirements, establish cultural & organisational changes required and advise on technology options.
In the design phase, the B. A. may be expected to propose, outline, design & specify business functions, to appraise software packages, to design manual interfaces and design implementation & training processes.
In the build phase, the B. A. may be expected to liase with the technical services provider, and plan/build/present training courses.
In the test phase, the B. A. may be expected to liase and manage acceptance testing.
In the implementation phase, the B. A. may be expected to liase and manage the implementation.
A Business Analyst may find themselves involved in some or all of the above roles. The required skill set may be classified as follows:
Primary skills - analysis & investigative skills, process modelling, data modelling, specification writing, business writing, inter-personal communications skills. Secondary skills - presentation & training skills, technology & vendor knowledge, SDLC knowledge, project management, team leadership.
Even if the B. A. works predominantly in the domain of primary skills, to be effective within the organisation they will need a balance of secondary skills as well.
In Part 3, we'll look at the current tools for modelling and requirements specification.
This article adapted for the web by Phil Dean, www.irmtraining.com. au. You may use this article in your newsletter or internal document free of charge provided that you do not alter it in any way and that you include the following:
Written by Derrick Brown and Jan Kusiak ©2002-2005 IRM Training Pty Ltd ABN 56 007 219 589. http://www.irmtraining.com.au