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Alastair Majury Bridge of Allan

What is a Business Analyst

Now the term Business Analyst is synonymous with a career in the IT industry but the most valuable and successful analysts are individuals who know the "business" rather than individuals who know IT.

So what exactly is a Business Analyst? What is the Business Analyst's role? What is the ideal background for this particular job? What skill set is required? What kind of person is the best fit? What training is required and available? Each organisation seems to have its own ideas about the role, skills, responsibilities and expectations. Given the importance of the job, a common definition would help both practitioners and employers. In this first part we examine just exactly what a Business Analyst is and explore the growth of the Business Analyst's role.

The contemporary Business Analyst - a definition

To begin with, we have to clarify our terminology. One of the most commonly accepted definitions of a Business Analyst(B.A.) is that of a communicator. The B.A. is the link between the requirements (the customer) and the applications alternative (the development team).

The skills demanded by the B.A. are considerably greater than just good inter-personal communication skills - a selection of tools and techniques are needed, as well as an proper background and character. Whilst the contemporary B.A. performs an extremely critical role in applications development, the real skills needed for success aren't technology centric. It's worth noting that the growth of the B.A. to understand how we came at this.

Evolution of the Business Analyst

In the first days of commercial computing, all of the investigation, design and development work for a software application was conducted by the computing experts, who often had little understanding of the company they functioned in.

During the nineties it became commonplace for staff from the company user community to become more closely involved in computer systems development. This move was designed to ensure that computer-based systems have been aimed in the actual business issues. The name Business Analyst (B.A.) became common, although there wasn't any commonly-adopted role definition. The staff filling this role knew about the business - or the component of it that they functioned in - but they knew little about IT and their investigation skills were often quite limited.

Today, the business process analysis, the requirements specification along with also the outline design - plus much of the approval testing and systems implementation work - is performed by the B.A.

He B.A. wants a range of analysis and creativity skills, data and process modelling skills, together with demands interpretation and specification-writing skills. They also need social skills for interviewing and for leading workshops to learn what the clients really want and need. B.A.'s also have to 'sell' the solution to decision-makers and development teams whilst negotiating and compromising about the three key elements of speed, cost and quality. To quote Arthur C. Clarke - "Do you want it quick, cheap or good? I can give you any two."

In addition to this, B.A.'s will often be working in teams - that they might require team leadership abilities and many are required to accept a project management function. Simply speaking the contemporary B.A. wants a variety of 'hard' skills - data and process modelling, design, specification writing - and a range of 'soft' skills - analysis, creativity, interviewing, presentation, negotiation - to execute efficiently.

Surveys have constantly reported that over 50 percent of large software projects are over-budget or behind schedule. As recently as October 2002, the Australian Financial Review reported to a Sydney organisation that had halted work on a customer billing system due to cost blow-outs and missed deadlines. More than $70 million was invested, with only two out of 21 parts of the machine delivered. With inadequate, inappropriate or inaccurate requirements as a major contributor to job overruns and failure, the role of a skilled Business Analyst at a project team is more crucial than ever.

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