The business case for certifications

Business analysis as a profession continues to mature in the world today and with that comes organizations and certifications indicating experience and knowledge. These certifications take time and money to achieve, and there are many different options, so it’s important to consider the business case of certification.

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Business analysis as a profession continues to mature in the world today and with that comes organizations and certifications indicating experience and knowledge. There are multiple schools of thoughts on certifications so one of the best things to do is to analyze the value returned for the effort (yes, be a good analyst!).

IIBA, the international institute of business analysis, is one of the leaders in the industry on business analysis certifications. Their levels of certification span from entry level certificates for awareness of business analysis concepts to professional level designations requiring years of expertise to now specific subject concentration areas of interest to the business analysis profession. They just released their 2019 Business Analysis Salary Survey Report that highlights some of the considerations of what certification means to people’s careers today.

From the practitioners themselves, they report that certification not only brings the often-sought salary increases, but also provides greater opportunities for promotions, increased fulfillment at work, and general increased confidence in the work that they do. This confidence can be easy to see as you not only have a standard to hold yourself accountable to, but you have a reference and validation for ensuring you are completing value-adding activities in your daily work. Again, the business analyst is often one of the most value-adding roles in an organization because they have no ownership of end products but seek to help teams deliver qualitative and quantitative value consistently to their organizations.

Of course, though, we need to take a look at what certifications mean to salaries as again, business analysts care about ROI. The IIBA salary survey showed interesting positive figures on the value of certification:

  • Holding at least one BA certification: results in 11% higher salary than non-credential holders
  • CBAP Certification holders (professional experience): results in 19% higher salary than non-credential holders
  • AAC Certification holders (agile analysis): results in 12% higher salary than non-credential holders
  • CCBA Certification holders (competency level): results in 2% higher salary than non-credential holders
  • Failing to hold any BA certification: results in 6% less salary than credential holders

As the report dives into details on the average salary per gender and country and region, the average global salary reported was around $73,632. When you think about the roles that business analysts play in organizations and the tasks they are assigned with, helping to deliver multi-million (or even billion) dollar change efforts, driving revenue, ensuring compliance with legal laws (that in itself can save millions of dollars) – the salary of a business analyst is a small price to pay for a huge return on investment (ROI)!

So when your hard working analyst comes to you for support for IIBA membership and certification application and exam fees that are less than $700 upfront costs and a fraction of that to maintain, us leaders and mangers need to do our own analysis and see the ROI to the organization that support certification. And if your organization won’t pay for your certifications, consider that IIBA (2019) showed in their BA Lens article that in 2018 found that a $300 (USD) investment in training could result in up to $5,300 increased earning potential for ECBA certificate holders. Pretty amazing for an entry level certification that does not require experience!  And of course, everyone is doing the ROI on that investment!

Certification holders, though, earn these valuable designations by attesting to their knowledge, regardless their level of experience. Again, the IIBA is leading the charge with bodies of knowledge and practice guides on the expectations of the business analyst role. But this work to defining the practice and profession has value beyond just the practitioners. Human resource and personnel groups now have a way to objectively assess individuals that come in with analysis experience and how they may measure up for the needed capabilities of the organization. There are standards that are tested against.

When an individual applies for a certain position, having certification requirements allows a quick and unbiased assessment of candidates who do and do not possess those required certifications. Again, these standardized certifications provide not only the profession but entire industries with defined expectations of what the role is capable of providing. And as any good analyst would see, having again more objective criteria to assess and evaluate any aspect of work, including individuals, helps to make more informed decisions.

The certifications available today for those interested in business analysis continue to support both those who are in or desire to be in business analysis roles and those that are simply practicing and growing their skill set of analysis techniques and practices. Certification recipients today include many fields of practice such as project management, process improvement, change management and technical analysts. Business analysts report that as they grow in this valuable profession, the skill sets, not just the techniques and tasks, are becoming more and more important. Skills that are crucial to success as an analyst that organizations will find in mid to senior level analysts include:

Hard skills

  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Decision making
  • Customer experience
  • User stories
  • Change management
  • Agile mindset
  • Negotiation skills
  • Design thinking

Soft skills

  • Communication skills
  • Creative thinking
  • Organizational skills
  • Leadership
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Storytelling

And while the entry level certification (ECBA) generally focuses on the knowledge of tasks and techniques of a business analyst, the professional level certification (CBAP) examination looks to incorporate so many of the skills above as you analyze situations and apply your analysis skills to different scenarios. That’s why the value of the certification becomes more than another acronym at the end of your name – it gives you the credibility that you can tailor and utilize business analysis foundational knowledge in a realm of different scenarios as this is the standard criteria set as part of the certification.

While the focus here has been on IIBA’s certifications, the importance of skill sets should not be overlooked as there are many training vendors and academic certificate programs that provide classroom settings to practice and hone your skills for better business outcomes. Business analysts and anyone helping teams accomplish great change efforts should always be looking to learn more and keep their skills sharp, a key attribute of successful analysts today.

Know that the power of a certification by an international organization is back to the standards and expectations that are transient to any job and any industry. One vendor’s certificate program may not include near the amount of techniques or application as another vendor’s program. Again, be a good analyst and do the business case for any endeavor you choose. However, especially those managing BAs or hiring BAs, know the power of a standardized list of capabilities that is defined and testing applicants for competencies by an external organization can provide evaluation criteria in an unbiased format.

Like many of the discussions around business analysis, the answer in identifying the value of certifications comes from doing the analysis work and building a solid business case. It could be small with justifying to your employer why they should reimburse you at least for taking (and hopefully passing!) the certification examination. That by passing, you have proving your competencies to help lead successful change efforts that you can bring to any transformational team.

As well as it will help differentiate you not only in the attainment of the credentials, but also demonstrate your commitment and passion for your career as earning your certifications does require some time and dedication. Hope you continue to build great business cases in all the work you do including considering the power of certifications to not only today, but to tomorrow’s endeavors!

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