With new technology and information changing the way businesses are run in the 21st century, companies must adapt to be profitable in an ever-increasing global economy. Looking at the success of Google, Inc. which began in 1998, and has exponentially expanded its net worth to over $200 billion in the present day, one can see just how lucrative the role of IT has become in the global marketplace. From the engineers who developed the Google search engine, to the evolution of information storage and collection, Google revolutionized do-it-yourself advertisement. It has continued to dominate the field of Internet storage with Cloud and Gmail technology, expanding into telecommunications technology, and even built a social media forum with the advent of Google+. There are many questions that factor into what makes a large business like Google successful: How does the company know which new ideas and projects will be a profitable success? What kind of marketing is needed? How is beta-testing overseen? Market testing? Product development? And how does one distinguish the difference between ideas that a company wants to pursue versus those that it needs? It makes sense that there must be cohesion across departments to ensure that the big ideas work and the fruitless ideas are shelved. This is the pivotal job of the Business Analyst.
A company is only as strong as its weakest link, and one of the best things a company can do is hire a Business Analyst to ensure that each department is working to the best of their ability. With this in mind, a great Business Analyst can be one of the most important assets to any company.
With that being said, just what is a Business Analyst? A good Business Analyst is like a conductor, always keeping the bigger picture in mind. An efficient Business Analyst is one who practices business analytics, which is, according to TechTarget, “methodical exploration of an organization’s data with emphasis on statistical analysis. Business analytics is used by companies committed to data-driven decision making.” Furthermore, a Business Analyst can often take on an “internal consultancy role that has responsibility for investigating business systems, identifying options for improving business systems and bridging the needs of the business with the use of IT”. In other words, a Business Analyst acts as a buffer between company departments, and often streamlines, catalogs and collects the data necessary for a project to move forward. Therefore, the Business Analyst must be a specialist, a generalist, and a jack-of-all-trades whose greatest attribute is communication.
Quoted below are some insights into what a great Business Analyst should be:
- According to the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis), the primary goal for the Business Analyst is to “work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.”
- Infolific cites that the Business Analyst must be “skilled at working with end-users to determine what their needs are. Often, the business analyst has some technical experience which is useful in determining if a user’s requests are feasible.”
- Patricia Pickett, an About.com guide, insists that, “[I]n a very general sense, a business analyst is someone who analyzes the operations and design of an organization, in order to come up with solutions to the organization’s problems.”
- Taken from an actual job description: “…The [Business] Analyst is the primary liaison between the business community, technology organization and external partners for all project requirements during the analysis phase of a project. He or she is responsible for proactively conducting interviews with all project stakeholders to elicit functional requirements, modeling those requirements in an organized manner, then managing and communicating those requirements throughout the project life cycle. Upon establishment of the requirements baseline, he or she will address change management issues and assist in test planning…”
Business analysts are at the crossroads of a new frontier in job market development. Since the prerequisites vary depending on the employer, there is no fixed role for a Business Analyst. The most common denominator is a solid background in Business Administration, Computer Science, Software development, programming, IT or other backgrounds in technical development. Since the role is expected to assume different hats, one must be prepared to become a project manager, marketing and/or financial consultant, or an information documentation specialist. In regards to IT, it is the responsibility of the Business Analyst to identify whether or not the business model and available technology are compatible and effective for each project.
What does it take to be a Business Analyst?
- Analytics: Strong Data Management and analysis skills including statistical and quantitative analysis will help to identify trends that translate into solid business opportunities. Business Analysts will be asked to mine through data and analyze cost and revenues to determine profitability, analyze requests from various functions such as Finance, Sales, Supply Chain, etc. to provide financial analysis, and perform internal operations and comparisons. The Business Analyst uses creative problem solving to analyze technical documents and financial reports, developing conclusions that save the business money. In the end, the Business Analyst will elicit, analyze, specify, and validate company requirements. Taking a few college mathematics courses in Statistical and Quantitative Analysis will help tremendously.
- IT: The Business Analyst should know a bit about Information Technology. Get familiar with software and document building programs. At some point, a Business Analyst may be asked to design and modify the business and/or IT systems. A clear understanding of primary languages used is a good start: Python, Perl, PHP, C/C++, Java, etc. Today’s Business Analyst bridges the gap between technology and business. According to Modern Analyst: “The business needs to improve productivity, needs to cut costs, and needs to make money. The technology is the enabler which allows the business to achieve all these goals. The modern analyst is the professional who ensures the technology meets the business needs. The analyst is the bridge between the needs and the delivered solution.”
- Data Mining: The insurgence of Big Data to the IT forefront has positioned itself as the primary focus of Business Analysts in recent years. The Business Analyst often sifts through, organizes, and collates data to get departments working with one another. Being able to understand, interpret, and communicate the information from vast statistical storehouses is a key component to the job. It is important to be familiar with statistics and operational databases. The more concise and clear one is with the numbers, the more confident the stakeholder(s) will feel about major projects and how the data will create a market for their projects.
- Data Modeling: While not an engineer or a full-fledged IT guru, a Business Analyst must be able to understand Data Management systems and business process modeling. A Business Analyst may be called upon to prepare use-case or sequence diagrams that will need to express core project concepts logistically at meetings with other team members and stakeholders. It should be mentioned that some will be asked to utilize a statistical background for the computation of Predictive Modeling and to administer Multivariate Testing. Business Analysts interact with IT, Data Modelers and others in the business hierarchy, so they must be able to act as a liaison between departments. Being familiar with ERwin modeling applications, ORM diagrams is helpful.
- Education: A few companies like IBM and colleges like UNEX.UCI offer IIBA endorsed certification programs (Certified Business Analyst Professional or CBAP) that provide a wealth of knowledge and training in the right direction specific to the field. Most often, the qualifications for jobs as a Business Analyst require a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Computer Science, Management and Information Systems, Supply Chain, Finance, Statistics, Technical Writing, Procurement, or IT, plus a sufficient amount of experience working the in the field (3-5 years).
- Business: Having a background in Business is essential. If one does not have a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, then at least taking a few courses in Business will provide the tools necessary to facilitate. Understanding corporate structure, communication, departmental delegations, and stakeholder/consumer relations will give any Business Analyst an edge. Learn the terms, connotations, and concepts associated with Business, because without a proper background in this field, there is no Business Analyst. Being familiar with financial data systems and software beyond Microsoft suites is a plus. Some financial programs include PeopleSoft financials, Essbase, and Hyperion Financial Reporting.
- Communication: A required skill on many job applications for a Business Analyst is excellent written and verbal communications skills. The Analyst will have to build and maintain business relationships across multiple levels of the organization and influence business decisions. It goes without saying that a leadership role is expected. The Business Analyst must be confident, and by taking a few courses in public speaking, one can easily surmount this challenge.
- Technical Writing: A Business Analyst will be asked to keep thorough records, write technical manuals, and create documents. The thing to remember is that a Business Analyst must take specific and technical notes in order to communicate information for the company both internally and externally. Keeping well-documented records and generating clear, understandable data is an important day to day function. Infolific notes, however, that the Business Analyst “is more than just a glorified note taker as he is also responsible for drilling down in to each business requirement to ensure that what is being asked is actually what is needed. Often a user thinks a particular feature is needed when in fact it isn’t. Similarly, a user may assume that a particular feature will be included when it hasn’t been specified anywhere. It is also the business analyst’s role to translate what the user is asking for into a technical form that the client/server programmer or web developer can understand.” Being able to make a Process Matrix, use cases, user stories, process and activity diagrams and flowcharts is a good start.
Business Analysts are strong multi-taskers that work as leaders for the companies they are hired for. With the emergence of Big Data in the job market, analytics has become a goldmine for job creation. With Business Analysts sifting through data, organizing business strategies, and coming up with profitable solutions, a whole new world of opportunities is at their fingertips.
Bridging the gap between technology and business, Business Analysts are at the forefront of communications, and they will speak volumes about how businesses should be run in the future.