Some time ago, Mikael Bisgaard-Bohr, vice president of business development at Teradata International, talked about working in “the new world of data and analytics.” In a world where the biggest companies are transforming their business using data, a new position has arisen: the business analyst.
What exactly is a business analyst?
The International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) defines the role as:
“The practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders”
Business analysts (BAs) certainly enable change. A good BA will not only help define business requirements, but the level of support needed to realise the necessary solution.
However, a business analyst’s key attribute is that they communicate. Business analysts listen to the business to understand the areas they want to improve or with which areas they need support. A business analyst can distil complex requirements into a brief for the technical team to design or build a solution.
BAs bring together both halves of the story, explaining a business problem to a technical team. Equally, they can lay out a technical solution in business terms for a nontechnical audience.
The first rule for a business analyst
Communication is everything. For a BA to succeed, verbal and written communication skills have to be extremely strong. A BA could explain a fundamental system change to the user community over email in the morning, liaise with the technical team on new business requirements via phone conference at lunch and present new functionality in person to the board of directors by the afternoon.
Regardless of the medium, a BA has to communicate clearly, in a concise and easily digestible way.
What does a business analyst do?
A BA manages requirements, but what does that mean? Regardless of the development methodology of choice — waterfall, Agile, RAD, or any other method you care to mention — a BA should shepherd a business through some version of the following nine steps:
- Understand the business problem or opportunity.
- Gather information: What is the status quo, and what needs to change?
- Present findings on the current and envisioned state of the organisation or system.
- Translate information into manageable chunks or requirements.
- Gain consensus on how to move towards the desired goal.
- Prioritise requirements based on the business benefit they will deliver and the effort needed to deliver them.
- Support a development team with knowledge about the business and its processes.
- Act as ‘subject zero’ for a variety of assessment phases, testing whether what is being created delivers on what the business wants.
- Assist with training and knowledge transfer, ensuring the business is left with a strong understanding of how any new functionality works.
If a BA delivers on all nine of those points, then it’s job done — happy customers.
Ultimately, the role of the BA is to be the custodian of information. They communicate information to the appropriate parties, in the correct format, and support the transformation of systems and processes using the information they gather.
In future posts, we’ll take a deeper look at each stage of the nine-step lifecycle of a business analyst, delve into a few detailed examples, and draw out some handy tips to help you become an exceptional BA.
As Clive Humby once said, “Data is the new oil”. The business analyst will teach businesses how to drill.