job description: A business analyst (BA) provides a bridge between the business and IT, working with both sides to propose changes to processes and systems to meet the needs of the business. Carlo Carbetta, senior director of recruiting operations for staffing firm CIO Partners of Atlanta, says that a business analyst acts as a liaison between functional areas such as HR, finance, marketing and technical areas, like development. Many work with project managers and are involved with software development or process management, he says.
The business analyst is a hot commodity right now due to business reliance on technology, according to Jim McAssey, a principal at The W Group, a consulting firm. "The global delivery capabilities of technology today make the challenges of successfully bridging the gap [between business and IT] even harder," he says.
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why you need one: Companies typically don't invest in an IT project without a solid business case, says Jeff Miller, senior vice president of Aetea, an IT staffing and consulting firm. A good business analyst is able to create a solution to a particular business problem and act as a bridge to the technologists who can make it happen. "Without the BA role, CIOs are at significant risk that their projects will not solve the business problem for which they were intended," says Miller. "This can cause project overruns, limited ROI or manual workarounds to meet business needs. The CIO also risks alienating his customers within the business if he fails to deliver solutions that target their needs."
desired skills: The ideal candidate will have five to 10 or more years of experience (preferably in a specific industry), a technical undergraduate degree and an MBA. Strong risk assessment, negotiation and problem resolution skills are key, as is knowledge of the Rational Unified Process, a software development framework. Hands-on experience is critical. Look for BAs who have worked as programmers or analysts, or in development or quality assurance.
how to find them: Miller suggests conducting your search in an industry similar to your own. Good places to look are large companies with internal development teams or complex infrastructures. BAs can also come from academia, but such candidates may lack exposure to business processes.
what to look for: Good communication skills and attention to detail. Carbetta says a BA must be process driven and able to see a project through conflict and change, from start to finish. The BA also must have the ability to learn new processes, says Miller: "A good BA learns business concepts and can quickly relate them to the specific needs of the project."
elimination round: Ask how the cost of hiring a BA justifies the return on a project, says Miller. Expect specific examples showing why a BA is critical to a project's success. A candidate who can't articulate this may not be a good fit.
salary range: $45,000 (entry level) to $100,000 (senior BA)
growing your own: People who are social and engaging by nature tend to make good BAs. Look for these qualities in your developers and QA staff. Programmers who excel at identifying solution requirements and who interact well with customers make good candidates, even if they are not technically as strong. Consider business users who possess some technical knowledge and have worked on past projects. Mentorship is also a good way to groom an internal candidate for the BA role, says Miller.