Alastair Majury Business Analyst

What is a Business Analyst

Now the expression Business Analyst is interchangeable with a career in the IT industry but the most valuable and successful analysts are those who know the "business" instead of individuals who understand IT.

So just what is a Business Analyst? What is the Business Analyst's job? What's the best background for this job? What skill set is required? What type of man is your best fit? What training is necessary and available? Each organisation appears to have its own ideas about the role, skills, responsibilities and expectations. Given the value of the job, a common definition would assist both professionals and companies. In this first part we examine just exactly what a Business Analyst is and explore the growth of the Business Analyst's role.

The contemporary Business Analyst - a definition

To begin with, we have to clarify our vocabulary. Among the most commonly accepted definitions of a Business Analyst(B.A.) is that of a communicator. The B.A. is the link between the requirements (the customer) and the software solution (the development team).

The skills demanded by the B.A. are considerably greater than simply good inter-personal communication skills - a selection of tools and techniques are needed, in addition to an proper background and character. Whilst the modern B.A. plays an extremely critical role in applications development, the actual skills needed for success are not technology centric. It is worth reviewing the growth of the B.A. to understand how we came at this.

Evolution of the Business Analyst

From the early days of commercial computing, all of the investigation, design and development work for a software application was performed by the computing experts, who often had little understanding of the business they functioned in.

Throughout the nineties it became common to staff from the business user community to become more closely involved in computer systems development. This move was designed to make sure that computer-based systems have been aimed at the actual business difficulties. The name Business Analyst (B.A.) became common, but there was no commonly-adopted role definition. The staff filling this function knew about the business - or the part of it that they worked in - but they knew little about IT and their investigation skills were often very restricted.

Nowadays, the company process evaluation, the requirements specification and the outline design - and a lot of the approval testing and procedures implementation function - is performed from the B.A.

He B.A. requires a range of analysis and creativity skills, process and data modelling skills, together with requirements interpretation and specification-writing abilities. In addition they require social skills for interviewing and also for top workshops to learn what the customers really want and need. B.A.'s also need to 'sell' the solution to decision-makers and development teams whilst negotiating and compromising on the three crucial elements of speed, quality and cost. To quote Arthur C. Clarke - "Do you want it quick, cheap or good? I can give you any two."

On top of this, B.A.'s will often be working in teams - they might need team leadership skills and several are expected to accept a project management function. Simply speaking the modern B.A. wants a variety of 'hard' skills - data and process modelling, design, specification writing - plus a variety of 'soft' skills - evaluation, creativity, interviewing, presentation, negotiation - to execute effectively.

Surveys have constantly reported that over 50% of big software projects are over-budget or behind schedule. As recently as October 2002, the Australian Financial Review reported on a Sydney organisation that had stopped work on a customer billing system because of cost blow-outs and missed deadlines. More than $70 million was spent, with just two out of 21 elements of this system delivered. With insufficient, improper or erroneous requirements as a significant contributor to project overruns and failure, the function of a skilled Business Analyst in a project team is more critical than ever.

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