Variety, the Spice of a Business Analyst’s Life

Part of the reason why some people still struggle with what it means to be a Business Analyst is because it is a very diverse career by definition. Business Analysis is defined very clearly in the IIBA® BABOK® guide, and yet, if you read this guide, you will agree that there is enormous scope for a Analyst to do a wide variety of things with their careers. So let’s look at some of the aspects that make our careers so diverse and interesting.

# All industries have BAs.

Business Analysis applies to any organisation big or small and in any industry where there is a form of business need that requires a business solution. Business Analysis is analysing the business needs (regardless of domain or industry) and facilitating the translation of need into a business solution. So as a BA, you pick where you would like to work, and you can keep it interesting by moving between industries every few months or years.

# Business Analysis can live at the top or the bottom of the corporate ladder.

Enterprise analysis is more often performed by experienced BAs; as a result, this is a career goal that you need to work towards. It does however exist as a very interesting and challenging analysis role at the top end of the corporate ladder. This makes Analysis even more diverse, as it is one of the few careers where the same set of skills can be applied in both junior and senior roles. The only real difference is that the level and type of business problem will be more conceptual than physical at the top end rather than at the bottom end.

# Analysis can be fluffy and feel good, or very technical and detailed: which are you?

Some BAs are naturally talented in discussing business needs in a language that business stakeholders really understand. These BAs are great at conversing with these stakeholders about their business needs in terms what they would like to achieve, or what they are not achieving. The Business Analyst can then translate these required business benefits into business requirements which can in turn be captured as part of a proposed solution to the problem. Then on the other side, some Business Analysts like the specifics and the details surrounding good business requirement definitions. These Business Analysts are good listeners, good documentation experts, and can be relied upon to support their counter-part Business Analysts who “talk the talk”. Your strengths and your choices will determine where you fit, and remember that both types of Business Analysts play their roles equally well.

# Do you like to work in a loud and explicit way or do you prefer it to be implied and assumed?

In some types of projects, particularly those that are more waterfall-based, you will find that there is a great emphasis placed on requirements gathering activities – running workshops, documenting requirements and running these requirement documents through various cycles of reviews and approvals. This is what I meant when I referred to “loud and explicit” business analysis. In other cases, the requirements gathering aspect of the project is still very important, but takes a more fluid and implied role in the everyday life of the project. Often this is the way requirements are managed within an Agile project environment. Business analysis is therefore applied in two very different ways without changing the nature of what is being done. This makes business analysis very adaptable and flexible as a skill set.

# Which part of the project life cycle would you prefer?

When you are a software developer, you get involved mostly in the build aspect of the software development cycle. With business analysis, you are involved at some or all of the stages of the software development life cycle. This applies to both traditional and Agile approaches. Your involvement will vary depending on which stages you get involved in, but you will nevertheless be performing some aspect of business analysis throughout. So you choose, once again, what type of business analysis activities you would most enjoy doing, and push to be involved in the parts of the projects that you want to be!

# Do you want to be part of a project team or the operations team?

Some Business Analysts are employed as part of business operations. They tend to work on business cases, feasibility studies and a variety of other enterprise level business analysis activities. This is great because not all business analysts like the project environment. However, most Business Analysts are employed in projects and thrive in that environment of peaks and troughs. Depending on your preference, you can once again, choose what type of environment you would like to be a Business Analyst in.

# Business Analysis can be domain agnostic or it can be deeply ingrained in a domain.

The one big divide that I have noticed through the years between different Business Analysts is that there are Business Analysts who taught themselves to be experts in one specific domain, and then there are others who taught themselves to be experts in any domain. Both of these types of Business Analysts are equally valuable. In some cases a particular role requires the individual to be a subject matter expert as well as a Business Analyst and in some other roles it requires pure business analysis skills. Once again, this leaves the highly skilled Business Analyst with a choice about whether they want to focus on one domain and have one aspect of their role as a subject matter expert, or whether they would like to remain a pure Business Analyst who is an expert in transferring their business analysis skills between different domains.

In a nutshell, these are just a few of the huge number of things to consider when you choose to be a Business Analyst. There are many more dimensions for a Business Analyst to choose from when they embark on this career. So jump in and try out as many different parts of the business analysis profession as you can, before choosing which aspect you most enjoy!

Develop an IT Strategy to Maximize Business Value

Businesses must develop a written Business Plan to succeed in today’s competitive business environment. A Business Plan defines the strategies and tactics for the business and provides a roadmap to success.

The same concept also applies to your Information Technology (IT). If your business does not have a documented IT plan – or strategy, your technology investments are likely considered a necessary cost of doing business instead of an investment that provides optimum business value.

Developing an IT strategy is a vital requirement for any size business. An effective IT Strategy defines the technology, people and processes necessary to meet business requirements.

More importantly, an IT strategy directly connects IT services with business processes, providing a framework that enables effective metric-based technology decisions in support of business goals and objectives.

In a previous article, I discussed key elements IT must provide to recognize value from your business investment:

• Align IT with business goals
• Provide critical business functions at high quality
• Deliver specified and measurable service levels
• Provide recommended risk mitigation tactics
• Maintain cost effectiveness.

Align IT with business goals. This is the most important element and becomes an impetus for an IT strategy that directly supports the business strategy.

An effective IT strategy clearly defines how all IT services and processes to deliver the services align with business goals. It also outlines a future state where your IT services directly contribute to the business sustainability and growth.

The strategy sets the foundation for aligning IT with the business, addresses the delivery of technology services and describes the costs associated with the delivery of those services. In summary, it provides a roadmap or blueprint for direct contribution to the success of the business.

There are several key issues to recognize and questions to address when considering a well defined IT strategy:

• How do we know if our IT services are aligned with the business?
• If IT is not aligned with the business, what is it costing us?
• How do we align our IT plans so that they directly support business objectives?
• How much will it cost?
• How will the IT strategy contribute to revenue goals?
• How do we know when our IT is aligned?
• How will we maintain alignment?

To develop an IT strategy, a comprehensive view of technology, people and processes will provide the greatest benefit.

Technology includes all business software required for your business, and also incorporates the overall network infrastructure and architecture to support the business software.

The people element consists of all internal IT staff and external IT resources you utilize. In addition, you must include all resources that contribute time and effort to IT functions. All direct and indirect costs are included.

Processes must include all business processes supported by IT – or that could be supported by IT. IT processes include all operational activities such as procurement, configuration management, change management, service and support.

There are several questions to consider in the early stages of evaluating and formulating a plan to develop an IT strategy:

• Is your technology meeting current business needs?
• Can your technology scale to meet the changing demands of the business?
• What are the key integration points and will they adapt and grow effectively?
• What is the most effective sourcing strategy for people and technology?
• What is the most cost effective means to deliver the quality and service levels required by the business?
• Are your processes fine tuned in all areas of IT operations?
• Are all technology and IT Governance risks accounted for?

Once you provide preliminary answers to these questions, you are better prepared to begin the strategy development process.

IT strategy development can be accomplished through the use of a four-step process:

1. Discovery – document the current state of technology, people and processes – including business processes
2. Assessment – assess technology, people and IT processes, establish and map out if/how each enables the business processes
3. Analysis – analyze the current state and potential desired future states
4. Formulation – develop solutions to reach desired future state

Implementation of the IT strategy requires substantial planning and depends on the size of the business, urgency and costs. The strategy is generally implemented over long periods of time on a priority/benefit basis.

The goal is to recognize incremental improvement. It is recommended to use a standard project delivery methodology to develop a plan and to manage the implementation of the IT strategy.

Developing and implementing an IT strategy will provide substantial business benefits. Maintaining a dynamic plan will help ensure your IT stays aligned with your business as your business grows.

A successful IT strategy will maximize business value and enable business growth.