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What is a business analyst? (Part 1)

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 first part we look at just what a Business Analyst is and explore the evolution of the Business Analyst's role.


The modern Business Analyst – a definition

First we need to clarify our terminology. One of the most commonly accepted definitions of a Business Analyst(B.A.) is that of communicator. The B.A. is the link between the requirements (the client) and the software solution (the development team).


The skills required by the B.A. are much more than just good inter-personal communication skills – a range of tools and techniques are needed, as well as an appropriate background and personality. Whilst the modern B.A. performs a highly critical role in software development, the real skills needed for success are not technology centric. It’s worth reviewing the evolution of the B.A. to understand how we arrived at this.


Evolution of the Business Analyst

In the early days of commercial computing all of the investigation, design and development work for a software application was performed by the computing specialists, who often had little knowledge of the business they worked in.


During the nineties it became common for staff from the business user community to become more closely involved in computer systems development. This move was designed to ensure that computer-based systems were targeted at the real business issues. The title Business Analyst (B.A.) became common, although there was no commonly-adopted role definition. The staff filling this role knew about the business – or the part of it that they worked in – but they knew little about IT and their analysis skills were often very limited.


Today, the business process analysis, the requirements specification and the outline design - plus much of the acceptance testing and systems implementation work - is performed by the B.A.

The B.A. requires a range of analysis and creativity skills, data and process modelling skills, together with requirements interpretation and specification-writing skills. They also need interpersonal skills for interviewing and for leading workshops to find out what the clients really want and need. B.A.’s also have to ‘sell’ the solution to decision-makers and development teams whilst negotiating and compromising on the three crucial elements of speed, cost and quality. 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 may need team leadership skills and many are required to take on a project management role. In short the modern B.A. needs a range of ‘hard’ skills – data and process modelling, design, specification writing – and a range of ‘soft’ skills – analysis, creativity, interviewing, presentation, negotiation – to perform effectively.


Surveys have constantly reported that more than 50% of large software projects are over-budget or behind schedule. As recently as October 2002, the Australian Financial Review reported on a Sydney organisation which had halted work on a customer billing system due to cost blow-outs and missed deadlines. More than $70 million had been spent, with only two out of 21 elements of the system delivered. With inadequate, inappropriate or inaccurate requirements as a major contributor to project overruns and failure, the role of a skilled Business Analyst in a project team is more critical than ever.




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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