The rising value of the IT Business Analyst
The evolution of the IT Business Analyst role is increasingly seeing the job description stretch beyond the "IT" further into the "Business" territory. This means greater career prospects for analysts but also real challenges for businesses who do not have a character like this on their team.
It's an exciting time to be a BA but some businesses are not benefitting from the expanded potential. Either their BA hasn't adapted in this direction, or the business processes are too rigid to allow role evolution, or perhaps (as is often still the case) they haven't got an IT Business Analyst at all. The IT Project Management services sector is geared up and ready to help with all these scenarios and more.
Here Are Five Examples Of The Rising Value of The IT Business Analyst (or things that could be added to the job spec!)
1 - Defender of Business Case Alignment
Often client/stakeholder requirements are prioritised as hot or lukewarm, but these priorities can be based on perception and personal agenda, rather than real business impact. The real danger here is that unchallenged, this can cause an IT Project to veer off course and not deliver intended business benefits. A good BA realises when this happens and therefore keeps the project focused on business case, filtering the requirements against strategic objectives and driving results that benefit the business as a whole.
A CIO colleague puts it, "A good BA is plugged into the whole matrix! They understand the project's relevance in relation to business objectives and display a passion and tenacity for keeping them aligned. Great BAs actually save organisations time, money and wasted resources"
2 - Improver Of Business Process
BAs are stepping beyond their traditional role of simply evaluating the value of IT to the business. More and more, BAs are evaluating the actual business process at their organisation, that is they are assessing the very thing that drives the need for the IT Project in the first place. As their understanding grows, they are better placed to not only help manage change after delivery into service but actually help shape business process against best practice, cutting edge IT. A real WIN/WIN for the organisation.
3 - Strategic Thought Leaders
BAs are also getting involved earlier at the stage when thoughts about IT investment are being formed and decisions are being taken. This makes sense, BAs have shown their value in tactical operational areas and these skills are instantly transferable to the more strategic design stage of IT Project Portfolios.
BAs I know who operate in this way grow their influence within the organisation and many have become a conduit through which most business functions flow.
4 - Multi-Project Specialists
I think that it fair to say that many Business Analysts still work on one project or one system at a time and while this may be down to scope and scale or less confidence in the robustness of systems, it could also just be down to a failure to evolve.
Increased use of agile processes, fewer larger scope projects and better breaking down into 'chunks', more robust "off the shelf" solutions are all giving Business Analysts space and freedom to handle more projects at a time. BAs working this way are delivering savings not just in how IT Projects function but also how they themselves operate.
5 - Multi-System Competencies
Traditional IT systems were built to deliver a single business need. So businesses would end up with several siloed IT systems all delivering different requirements. Many did not talk to each other and as they were often bespoke and expensive - businesses were loathed to replace them.
The growth in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software packages changed this. Solutions which are bought off the shelf and then adapted to satisfy the needs of the purchasing organisation are cheaper than commissioning traditional custom-made, or bespoke, solutions - so businesses are filling their shopping baskets! The real skill here is making them work together and this is an area where BAs are really delivering value.
A good example recently was a business that introduced a new IT system for generating delivery notes. The Transport Director wanted a new automated system to improve on the existing (and rather quaint) heritage software package that still even required the end user to generate delivery note numbers "by hand" and write them in a lined A4 book!
Traditional BAs would have worked on this system and this business need would have been delivered but the hero BA at this organisation saw the potential in linking the new delivery notes software with other departments. Sales administrators now get a real-time delivery eta to pass to customers; the delivery note system automatically adjusts stock levels for the store controller to keep on top of inventory and alerts purchasing when levels are low; and it automatically advises the accounts department the moment a delivery is made so that an invoice can be raised and emailed reducing time from delivery to account settlement.
6 - Cross Department Competencies
A natural step on from all of the above is the expansion of departmental stakeholder groups who increasingly rely upon support from IT Business Analysts. The best BAs are driving this by using their knowledge of business processes and weighing up the cross-departmental impact of every IT Project.
These BAs are becoming adept at understanding and prioritising the competing needs of various departments, they are improving their communication skills and again their circle of influence within their business structure is growing.
For years, I've said that rather than just supporting the business, in most firms IT now IS the business - so who better to have at the heart of this than an IT Business Analyst.
In conclusion, although the job title remains unchanged, the role of the Business Analyst is evolving all the time. Business Analysts that have adapted in this direction are delivering greater results and a competitive edge to their organisations.
Businesses that do not have such a character on their payroll may be missing out but can access talent like this from a trusted external resource provider. As IT becomes increasingly driven by return on investment, to not do so could be handing your competition a commercial advantage that may come back to bite you hard.