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Business Analyst

What is a Business Analyst? (Part 3)

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 third and final part we look at modelling and requirements specification tools.


Current technology – modelling tools

It can be extremely difficult to agree on what and how things are done now in a large organisation, even more so to agree on what and how things should be done. Modelling tools are a critical element in this process. A recent Australian survey (based on 300 responses from practicing computer professionals) revealed the top 4 modelling techniques currently in use:

Entity Relationship diagram 39%, Data flow diagram 34%, Systems flowcharting 31% and Workflow modelling 24%.


Software tools are widely available to support these techniques. In our observations however, the most commonly-used tool remains the whiteboard. The growth in the use of CASE tools has been much slower than predicted, with auto code generation, while available for ten years or more, still not widely in use.


The survey goes on to say that OO (object oriented) analysis, design and programming has been the predominant systems development paradigm over the last decade. However, some 64% of respondents either did not know or did not use UML (Unified Modelling Language) and 74% of respondents did not know or use object modelling.


Today UML is making the transition to business process modelling with software vendors supplying extensions and enhancements to cater for the needs of the Business Analyst. But this comes at a price – there is a corresponding need for structure, process and discipline in the development team. For organisations developing new, large scale systems e.g. defence and health, UML offers a clean sheet approach but brings with it the need for investment in disciplined processes and procedures, plus up-skilling and staff (re)training.


Current technology – requirements specification tools

Although software tools are available for specifying requirements, they are not in wide use in the commercial computing world. These high-end software tools enable users to track requirements from original specification down to code level and are useful for the large, complex industries like the defence and telecommunications sectors where rigorous requirements specification and zero software defects are daily objectives – and where the high cost of implementing rigorous processes and procedures can be justified. In these industries, the boundaries on requirements are often easy to set in that they typically define a product (e.g. weapons system, mobile handset) which will be designed, manufactured then shipped. Once in the field, their function doesn’t change.


In the commercial and government sectors, requirements relate more to business services and business processes both of which can be in a continuous state of flux throughout their lifecycle. Business Analysts work closely with clients and development teams, refining, changing and sometimes re-defining requirements. The humble word processor becomes an easy-to-master and effective communications tool to represent a requirement (a statement of what’s needed) and even state-of-the-art requirements templates use Microsoft Word as the underpinning technology.


So where should today’s Business Analyst focus and what are the best training strategies to pursue?

There is no substitute for practice and the B.A. evolves into a highly skilled practitioner of immense value to their organisations. Those working in the field either become very proficient technically or move into management positions, or a combination of both.


Today’s business analyst will have in depth expertise in some of these domains - and just as importantly will have a conceptual understanding of all of them.


As long as companies and organisations want to add new capabilities or improve existing business processes, there will be an ongoing need for professional Business Analysts. The deeper and broader the range of a Business Analyst’s skills, the greater will be the return to their employer and the further their own individual career will take them.


This article adapted for the web by Phil Dean, 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.

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