Bringing the Business Analyst into Sharper Focus


I've written before about the difficulty many organizations have in defining the role of the CIO. Yet doing so may be a relative walk in the park as compared to describing what a business analyst does.


Forrester Research analysts Carey Schwaber and Rob Karel found it a tough task, even after interviewing more than 300 BAs and reviewing 29,000 job listings for BAs. They identified two major classes of analysts, the business-oriented BA and IT-oriented BA, and several archetypes within those classes.


To make it even more confusing, the two analysts contend that the BA role is evolving into a new sort of hybrid they call "a business technology analyst." (This is perhaps not so surprising, since Forrester CEO George Colony has for some time advocated changing the term information technology to business technology.)


Forrester analyst Mary Gerush, who is working on an as-yet-unpublished report that will build upon some of the points made by her colleagues, told me in a recent interview that business-oriented BAs tend to have more knowledge of business processes and policies and more interaction with business executives and stakeholders than their IT-oriented peers. The IT-oriented analysts possess a deeper knowledge of technology, and some even do hands-on tech work such as design or development.


Organizations want to morph the two types of analysts into a hybrid role that can easily cross domains out of a desire to better integrate IT with the business, said Gerush.


That's not happening at most companies today, writes IT Business Edge blogger Loraine Lawson, who last week highlighted a new TDWI report that describes an often-tense relationship between BAs and IT administrators. According to the report, BAs spend more than 50 percent of their time performing tasks the IT department could and should assist with, because of internal power struggles. Much of the ire comes down to the fact that neither side appreciates how the other does its job, says the report.


That's where the business technology analyst can help, said Gerush:

In a lot of cases, IT has a bad reputation with the business. "You can't deliver anything on time or on budget," those kinds of things. That relationship should improve, because you have someone with an improved understanding across both domains, or that blurred central domain.

In addition to improving relations between IT and the business, said Gerush, the business technology analyst can boost the success rate of IT projects by producing on-target business requirements and managing them throughout the process in a more holistic way. Said Gerush:

(Requirements are) not just thrown over the wall, and the developers go off and do their thing. The business technology analyst can really shepherd those through the process and make sure that the outcomes are good.

Many organizations can find qualified business technology analyst candidates hiding in plain sight within their ranks, said Gerush. Two examples: workers who spend their free time developing Web sites or tinkering with tech gadgets, and IT employees who exhibit a broader interest in the business and may even have a degree in a non-technical subject.