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What is a Business Analyst ?

“Business Analysis is the task of understanding business change needs, assessing the business impact of those changes, capturing, analysing and documenting requirements and supporting the communication and delivery of requirements with relevant stakeholders.
Business Analysts bridge the gap between IT & R&D departments and Business units, a kind of interpreter between technical personnel and senior decision makers.”

If you had a plot of land and wanted to build a house, we hope that you would first engage the services of an architect. The architect would ask you questions – what is your budget, what style of house, how many bedrooms, how much parking or garage space you need, etc. The architect would then draw up plans which they would agree with you before approaching builders to understand the cost of building the house. Once the build was underway the architect would monitor the build to make sure the house was built according to your needs. Occasionally problems might arise requiring the plans to be revised, or, you might want to make some modifications to the plans which would need to be agreed with the builder.

Being a business analyst is a bit like being an architect but instead of building a house, we are developing or updating a computer system. A business analyst takes responsibility for talking to the business users of the computer system to understand their needs. Instead of producing plans, the business analyst produces ‘requirements’ which clearly state the business needs and align with business processes. The requirements are then used by the IT team or an external supplier to build or modify the system. While the system is being built the business analyst is on hand to deal with issues and questions, and to support the business in implementing the required changes to make effective use of the new system.

What does it take to be a Business Analyst?

The business analyst role is often seen as a communication bridge between IT and the business stakeholders. Business analysts must be great verbal and written communicators, tactful diplomats, problem solvers, thinkers and analysers – with the ability to engage with stakeholders to understand and respond to their needs in rapidly changing business environments. This can often involve dealing with very senior stakeholders and can often involve challenging and questioning to ensure that value for money is achieved from IT developments.

A business analyst does not need to have an IT background although it can help to have some basic understanding of how IT systems work. Some business analysts come from a technical or programming background but they will often come from within the business itself – having a detailed knowledge of the business domain can be equally useful (if not more so!)

A bit of history

Requiring straightforward automation of repetitive administrative tasks and conversion from paper to electronic data storage, IT projects of the 1970s and 1980s reaped significant financial rewards. “Systems Analysts” took responsibility for documenting existing manual paper based processes, identifying problems and new business requirements, and automating the processes through computerised systems. This provided significant cost savings as well as improvements to business performance through access to electronic information in fractions of a second.

Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, organisations evolved their IT systems to take further advantage of computer technology – but many projects failed to deliver the desired benefits often because of a focus on delivering ‘technology’ at the expense of business needs. During this period, the role of the “Business Analyst” emerged requiring a deeper understanding of the business and the development of relationships with stakeholders at all levels. As business stakeholders became increasingly IT aware, the business analyst role evolved to support them in achieving their goals while constantly balancing conflicts between business needs and limited IT resources.

Through the new millennium, increasing use of the internet placed even greater demands on IT departments which were increasingly outsourced or off-shored. Organisations themselves became increasingly globalised and more complex as did their IT infrastructures, often containing hundreds (even thousands) of different systems. Agile emerged as a more flexible way of developing and updating IT systems in rapidly changing business environments. During this period, ‘Business Analyst’ became a catch-all job title for many project and business change roles. Different views emerged of the business analyst role, from being a strategic thinker driving change within the organisation, through acting as a process improvement expert and being responsible for eliciting and documenting requirements for IT systems.



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