The Emerging Role of the Business Analyst
The development of new software applications has been around since the late 1970’s. Compared to other industries and professions, the software industry is still very young. As companies began using computers to support their business operations, the people who create and maintain these “systems” have become increasingly sophisticated and specialized. This specialization is necessary because computer systems are becoming more and more complex and no one can master everything.
One of the emerging “specialties” is the Business Analyst. A business analyst is a person who acts as a link between business people with business problems and engineers who know how to develop solutions. Although some organizations have used this degree in non-IT business fields, it is an apt description for a role that serves as a bridge between people in business and IT. The use of the word “business” is a constant reminder that any application software developed by an organization must continue to improve its business operations, whether by increasing revenue, reducing costs, or increasing the level of service to customers.
History of the role of the business analyst
In the 1980s, when the software development life cycle was accepted as a necessary step, the people who did this work usually came from a technical background and worked in IT organizations. They understand the software development process and often have programming experience. You use text requirements along with ANSI flowcharts, data flowcharts, database diagrams, and prototypes. The biggest complaint with software development is the long time it takes to develop systems that don’t always meet business needs. Business people are used to sophisticated software and want it better and faster.
In response to the demand for speed, a class of development tools called CASE (Computer Aided Software Engineering) was created. These tools are designed to capture requirements and use them to manage software development projects from start to finish. They require strict adherence to methodologies, involve long learning curves, and often alienate the business community from the development process due to the foreign symbols used in diagrams.
As IT teams struggled to learn how to use CASE tools, personal computers (PCs) began to appear in large numbers on desktops across the enterprise. Suddenly anyone could be a programmer, designer and computer user. IT teams were still perfecting the management of central mainframe computers and suddenly had to manage hundreds of independent computers. Client-server technology is emerging as an advanced alternative to traditional keyboard-based “green screen” software.
The impact on the software development process is devastating. Classic methodologies and development approaches had to be revised to support new distributed systems technologies, and the increasing sophistication of computer users caused the number of software requests to skyrocket.
Many lines of business are tired of waiting for large, sluggish IT departments to launch another complex application. They learn to do things themselves or hire a consultant, often referred to as a business analyst, to report directly to them to help with their automation needs. This causes further problems for IT, who are suddenly being asked to support software they didn’t write or approve. Small, independent databases with inconsistent and often unprotected data are emerging everywhere. During this time, the role of the in-house business analyst was minimized and as a result, many systems were not solving the right business problems, leading to increased maintenance and remediation costs.
In response to the change, new methods and approaches were developed, RAD (Rapid Application Development), JAD (Joint Application Development) and OO (Object Oriented) tools and methods were developed.
At the beginning of the new millennium, the Internet emerges as a new technology and IT is once again confronted with extraordinary changes. Again, more sophisticated users looking to leverage new technologies often look outside of their own organization for the automation they need. The business side of organizations is starting to push technology like never before and most organizations are starting to implement the business analyst role within the operational units instead of IT. We now have a marketing director, an accountant, a lawyer and a payroll clerk who act as business analysts.
Additionally, the quality movement that began with TQM in the 1970’s is coming back into focus as companies expand globally looking for ways to reduce the cost of missed requirements. The ISO (International Standards Organization) sets quality standards that must be met in international business. Carnegie Mellon developed the quality standard for software development CMM (Capability Maturity Model). In addition, Six Sigma offers a disciplined, data-driven quality approach to process improvement that aims to eliminate defects from almost every product, process, and transaction. Each of these quality efforts requires more fact and rigor during requirements gathering and analysis, which highlights the need for a more qualified business analyst familiar with business, IT, and quality best practices.
The future of the Business Analyst role
Today we see business analysts from the fields of IT and business. In the best of circumstances, today’s business analyst has a combination of IT and business skills. Each organization has a unique title for these individuals, and the structure of the business analyst group is as diverse as the companies themselves. However, there are a number of core jobs that most business analysts perform, regardless of their background or industry.
The role of the business analyst becomes more important as more project teams are geographically dispersed.
Outsourcing and the globalization of large companies have driven much of this change recently. As the role of IT development moves outside of our organization, it becomes more important than ever to accurately and fully define requirements. A consistent, structured approach that has been great in the past is necessary to thrive in a new environment. Most organizations retain the Business Analyst role as an “internal” function. As a result, more and more IT staff are being trained to become business analysts.
The Business Analyst role will continue to shift its focus from “Software” to “Business Systems.”
Most business analysts today focus on developing and maintaining software, but business analyst skills can be applied more broadly. An excellent business analyst can research areas of the business and make recommendations for process changes, personnel changes, and policy changes in addition to recommending software. Business Analysts can help improve business systems, not just business software.
The Business Analyst role will evolve as business needs evolve.
Future productivity gains will be achieved through reusable requirements. Requirements management will be another key skill in expanding the business analyst’s role as companies mature in their understanding of these critical skills. Business analysts are often referred to as “change agents”. With a detailed understanding of an organization’s key initiatives, business analysts can lead the way to influence people to adapt to larger changes that benefit the organization and its business goals. The Business Analyst role is an exciting and safe career choice as US companies continue to drive the global economy.
Business Analyst training
The skills required for a successful business analyst are diverse and can range from communication skills to data modeling. A Business Analyst’s educational and professional background can also vary – some have an IT background while others come from a business stakeholder background.
With such a diverse and broad background, it is difficult for a Business Analyst to possess all the skills needed to conduct successful business analysis. Companies are finding that individuals with a strong business analysis background are hard to find in the marketplace and are choosing to train their staff in a consistent, structured approach to becoming business analysts.
First, organizations seeking formal business analysis training should consider vendors who are considered “experts” in the field and have a strong focus on business analysis approaches and methodologies. Second, you should check the quality of the training provider’s materials. This can be accomplished by researching who is writing supplier materials and how often they are updated to keep up with industry best practices. Third, matching the instructor’s real-world experience to your organization’s needs and experience level is critical to training success. Business analysis is a growing profession and it is very important that the instructor you choose is a practicing business analyst.