Defining the role of the business analyst

The evolving role of the business analyst today is seeing not only a shift from technical to more business application, but also a question of identity as roles evolve to product owners and areas of business agility. So, what about the analysis?

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The business analyst role is one that seems to be considered both old and new in the same sentence. Often labeled as an information technology role or technically focused, this role has seen rebirth in recent years. And yet many people are also asking in various industries if the role is a dead-end. By definition, the role of the business analyst is actually one that is assigned to anyone who performs business analysis work. Not exactly a revelation of a job description. But all this discussion actually helps highlight the value of what the role provides regardless the title: the value-adding analysis needed from an unbiased party focused on the success of the organization.

The reason it continues to pop up in organizations, especially in non-technical positions today, is that the organizations need the analysis work and skill set. The analysis work needs to be done for organizations to succeed whether or not a person has the title of analyst. Change work requires the skill set to decompose, analyze, consider possibilities and engage with decision makers.

What is more important is that organizations are seeing the value beyond the scope of project-based work or efforts confined to the IT department. The scope of business analysis is growing into strategic planning, enterprise architecture and optimizing current operations. These should feel like natural progressions for a profession whose knowledge areas include strategic analysis and solution evaluation. However, it is easy to see how the business analyst role or skill set could easily be found in project management, process improvement, operational management, planning and support roles throughout the organization.

So, what happens to this valuable position?

Defining the role

So be a good business analyst and start first by looking at the organizational capabilities and identifying which ones are missing. Some capabilities are simple and straight-forward such as  “ability to patch and maintain production and test servers.”  This is a core capability the technical team needs to maintain infrastructure. If they do not have it, they hire a server administrator who administers the servers. Simple enough.

But when you start looking at the organization and you start identifying capabilities of building business cases across the enterprise, defining levels of ROI (return on investment) for purchases as relates to customer, employees AND shareholders, standardizing processes across domains, troubleshooting communication challenges that have led to employee satisfaction concerns (and so root-cause analysis) – what position is this?  And where would you find them?  Enterprise planning, project management offices, financial departments, marketing teams, technology support centers and human resources would all be applicable areas where people who do business analysis could add this kind of value.

Building the justification

Again, being a good business analyst, then the justification for the role is as simple as first laying out the needed capabilities required of the organization to achieve their goals. Then assessing which capabilities the organization has and identifying where the gaps exist. You would then recommend how to best address these gaps with solutions, such as hire new staff, train existing staff, or outsource.

Any of these options might lead you to a business analyst. Either as a new position to address many capabilities, obtaining analysis training (from a business analyst) or hiring a business analyst consultant who can go across domains and focus areas to support the current goals and change efforts.

Analysis within current trends

As organizations work to build their business agility, the need for business analysis grows even stronger. Many organizations shifting to more adaptive change work, such as agile methodologies, have stated that they do not need a business analyst because they have more involved product owners and facilitated scrum masters driving delivery of value.

But if we go back to the definition of a business analyst and focus on anyone doing business analysis work, then we can identify that a business analyst is still needed, they may just have another title. Analysis of requirements, development of acceptance criteria and test cases and alignment to strategies and higher-level goals are all still analysis activities that are performed. People with titles other than business analysts are simply performing the analysis work.

And with all the discussion around digital transformation, the need for people with analysis skill sets becomes even more imperative. Digital transformation is not about letting IT drive the business. For a number of businesses, digital transformation focuses on leveraging new and improved capabilities. This has organizations looking at opportunities to evolve their current value propositions or even expand to new markets and even industries.

Organizations need analysts today that can look at capabilities, both current and emerging and assess the impact these opportunities have on the current position of the organization. Foundational analysis of strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats is still required to build creative and innovative business cases to keep organizations competitive and relevant.

Having business analysts that look across the organization help provide an enterprise-level analysis to help consider how changes affect not only single business areas, but also the organization as a whole, including the impacts on customers, employees, community and shareholders. Understanding enterprise architectures has been paramount for organizations looking to expand customer products and take advantage of these new technologies.

Too often the rest of the organization is busy keep up day-to-day operations or is only assigned to projects once they are approved. Business analysts can help provide this holistic perspective to help organizations consider where, when and how to move their organizations to take advantage of the evolving landscape around them.

Know that even if the title of business analyst does not exist in an organization, the business analysis work is still being done. In fact, analysis work and the skill set to assess, develop and measure changes is needed now more than ever. Business analysts can still provide incredible value on improving operations and quality requirements on technical projects. However, business analysts are evolving to provide assessments of entering new markets, analysis on enterprise architecture and capabilities and the valuation of the innovations of tomorrow.

Business analysts today need not be worried about their jobs, but rather focus back on their core mission and consider how they are adding value to the organization and where and how could they add more value than being done today and push to expand and evolve your areas of responsibilities. People looking for business analysis positions should not limit themselves to only those titled positions.

Those interested in business analysis should consider the areas and industries where they would most enjoy working in or around. If finance is your background, look for financial analysis positions that allow you to leverage your expertise while expanding your business analysis skill sets. If you like new and exciting work that spans across multiple areas, then I encourage you to learn more about your project management office or other enterprise planning organization and inject yourself as a valued member.

Most importantly, regardless whether you are in a business analyst position or you are interested in becoming one, avoid stressing over the title and rather focus on the expected results and what you can hope to achieve in any position.

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