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Career Spotlight: Business Analyst

Career Spotlight: Business Analyst

For IT professionals seeking to move beyond purely technical jobs, becoming a business analyst can be an attractive option, especially for those concerned about the effects of global outsourcing on the information technology field.

What do business analysts do? In a nutshell, they’re the ultimate facilitators, helping organizations implement technical solutions cost-effectively by determining and communicating technical requirements to a range of players who may be anywhere in the world.

“When you hear about far-reaching innovation, cutting-edge technology and high-growth IT careers, don’t just think in terms of architecture and development prowess,” writes Kathleen B. Hass in “The Business Analyst: The Pivotal IT Role of the Future,” a white paper. “In virtually every organization, the pivotal leadership role of the business analyst is beginning to shape the future of IT. So don’t blink -- or you’ll miss out on the IT opportunity of a lifetime.”

Two main factors are behind the demand for business analysts:
  • Increase in Outsourcing: When companies outsource technical projects, especially to India and Russia, they need tech-savvy professionals who can define project requirements and serve as conduits between far-flung managers and organizations. “I see a transition from technical roles to facilitation,” says Alexander Nepomnyashchiy, a Bellevue, Washington-based program manager with Russian IT firm Luxoft, noting the rise of the analyst role in the US.
     
  • Drive for Efficiency: Even companies that aren’t outsourcing need business analysts to craft processes that determine how technology can serve the business, rather than simply drain cash from it.
Knack for Translation

Business analysts are the bridges between an organization’s technologists and other departments. However, instead of focusing on the nuts-and-bolts of designing a database or managing a network, for example, business analysts develop, document and manage the requirements necessary to meet a business goal; they even help determine what the goal should be. Other business analysts may conduct similar work in less-technical areas such as process improvement.

Kathleen Barret, president of the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), says business analysts’ ability to translate -- an ability that’s difficult to offshore -- is crucial to succeeding in the role. “[Business analysts] need to be there with the business,” she says. “It’s very difficult to do a good job virtually.”

Techies in Transition

IT professionals may come to the role of business analyst from jobs such as database analyst, software developer or other positions that require sharp analytical and problem-solving skills.

“Most of our technologists don’t just sit there and code or administer user-security issues,” says Glenn Brule, director of client solutions for ESI International, a business analysis training and services company. “They continuously work with clients at some level trying to understand what the client situation is, and, as such, by default are gathering requirements.”

Because the role requires a shift in mind-set, techies don’t always have an easy time making the transition, Barret says. Rather than working on implementing a solution as techies do, business analysts spend the bulk of their time in the neutral role of facilitating, negotiating, analyzing and information-gathering.

While business analysts don’t need expertise in any one technology, they must be able to understand technical concepts and work with technologists -- one of the main reasons IT professionals are often recruited to become business analysts.

In her white paper, Hass, project management practice leader at Management Concepts, a training and consulting firm, says the skills and knowledge areas in which business analysts should be proficient include:
  • Systems engineering concepts.
  • Modeling techniques.
  • Requirements documentation and management.
  • Technical writing.
  • Cost/benefit analysis.
  • Business case development.
This broad range of technical, business and leadership skills can be a challenge for techies as well as for the organizations seeking to hire business analysts with the right mix of expertise. “[Business analysts] aren’t hatched,” says Brule, adding that many companies are struggling with converting IT workers into business analysts.

For that reason, IT professionals making the transition to a business analyst role should proactively seek out training and resources. “They do have to do more on their own,” says Brule, who suggests getting involved with a group such as the IIBA to connect with analyst resources and professionals. “Don’t get too frazzled. [The transition] can become overwhelming.”

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