A Brave New World for Business Analysts

Written by  Suzanne Burgess

Change is always with us, in both big and small ways. As business analysts, we should embrace this constant feature in our work by looking for ways to help understand it and use it. All too often we see the change only as a project in which we elicit and document requirements. We need to think further than the project. We need to know the reason for the change – what problem is being addressed and what are the forces behind the reason for change?

Thanks to technology, today’s companies must change constantly or die. Research shows that the average lifespan of a company is much shorter than previously thought. For example, on the Standard Poors Index the average lifespan of a company is 15 years compared to previous generations. Companies like Kodak, which were once world leaders are now footnotes because they did not see how to use changes in technology. Although Kodak invented the digital camera, they set it aside so it would not impact on their main business of selling film. Kodak did not take advantage of this possible disruption – a digital camera – and is now history.

The disruption change brings to an organisation can be seen as an opportunity for that organisation to innovate and reinvent themselves. The same opportunities apply to BAs. BAs are better positioned than most professions to understand these types of change by analysing the underlying reasons for them and reinvent themselves based on the environment they find around them.

I believe that business analysts must adapt by developing expertise in the following areas:

  • strategic thinking,
  • customer-centred design, and
  • data presentation and communication.

To a lesser extent, all three of these areas are already listed in the IIBA Body of Knowledge Underlying Competencies. Competencies such as learning, communication, and leadership should be expanded to better understand the changing technological environment and provide value to our organisations.

One lesson from Kodak’s mistake with the digital camera is to think strategically and not to try and hide from new innovations. Business analysts have been told time and time again to not “jump to solution”; however, that may not fit with the new environment of organisations using already developed or outsourced IT solutions and applications in the cloud. Mark McDonald said it best in a Gartner Blog on “Amplifying the role of the business analyst” when he stated “Increasingly, enterprises and CIOs do not have the resources or time to continuously create new solutions. This changes the role of business analyst from introducing new solutions to solve issues toward a greater emphasis on redeploying existing solutions to new issues.“

While organisations are attempting to understand the technology changes, end users or customers of their products, they are also trying to keep up with these changes. Business analysts have always included the end user in the stakeholder lists and analysis, but now is the time for them to recognise that customers are THE stakeholder. In my opinion, good design and usability of an end product signals the success of a project. Customers today have many platforms to voice their disapproval and affect the organisation. Good design comes from including users in the design process and experimenting with them to see what works. This user-centred approach works well with our requirements elicitation.

The change businesses are experiencing means that they will look for answers everywhere, including all the data available to them through websites and social media and other means. The Harvard Business Review recently declared: “The steady invasion of hard analytics and technology (big data) is a certainty.”  And business analysts should be equipping themselves to understand what this means and more importantly, how to present data. We need to understand what exactly the stakeholders are looking to the data for and how to present it to them so they understand it to make a decision. I disagree with this article in Slashdot stating that big data means the “death” of business analysts. No, I think the change coming from big data provides a great opportunity for BAs.

As organisations face change and decide how to respond, we BAs face the same need to change. How we respond to change and whether we change also and in what ways will determine whether we are successful. I believe our profession needs to start focusing more on strategic thinking, customer-centred design and data presentation and communication. What are your thoughts?

91Suzanne Burgess

Suzanne’s BA experience includes user-centred design, developing BA capability, technical writing and coaching/mentoring other BAs. Having worked all over the world (including the United States, Kenya and Iraq), Suzanne’s New Zealand business analysis experience (currently with Redvespa Consultants has centred on eliciting user and business requirements for websites, web applications, and business processes.

A champion of best practice, Suzanne initiates regular forums to help build business analysis skills. No stranger to public speaking, Suzanne has presented at industry events such as the IIBA (NZ Chapter) BA Development Day and the BA Skills Development Forum.

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