Does a Business Analyst's Background Matter?

Ann All

Yesterday I wrote a post about three essential skills for business analysts, citing a post by Brad Wray on the Enterprise Architecture and Business Analysis blog and a story I wrote for which I interviewed several BAs and a Forrester Research analyst. One of the questions I tried to answer in my story was whether folks from a business background or a technical background make the best BAs.


One of my sources, Jay Michael, a business analyst at Colfax who studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate but switched to business and got an MBA, believes companies will find it easier to hire a business person and teach them the needed IT skills than to impart business knowledge to an IT person. He told me:

A business person will be able to figure out the technology needs along the way.

Though I didn't mention Michael's take on must-have skills in yesterday's post, he put "knowledge of how business works from a process perspective" and "ability to take a high-level view" of business issues at the top of his list.


Another of my sources, Forrester Research analyst Mary Gerush, told me that a job candidate's background isn't as important as him or her feeling comfortable with both business and technology. She said:

If you look at the business side of your organization and you've got folks who are into gadgets and go home and develop their own Web sites, that proficiency and interest in technology could make them a great candidate. If you have somebody in IT who maybe came from a different background and has an interest that goes beyond just development and technology, that person could also be a good candidate.

Wray also doesn't have a preference as to whether technical folks or folks from a business background will make the best BAs. Neither skill set is as important as the skill he considers most important for BAs: customer service. He wrote:

I don't think either is any better than the other. It really depends on type of person they are and if they possess exemplary customer services skills. Technology and business domain knowledge can be taught, where the desire to satisfy another person's needs is more of an inherent characteristic.

Why all the discussion about this role? As I noted yesterday, It's the most in-demand skill among global CIOs who participated in the Harvey Nash CIO Survey 2010. In reteweeting my post on Twitter, CTO/CIO Perspectives blogger Peter Kretzman called BAs "the straw that stirs the drink."

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 28, 2010 6:52 PM David Wright (drumr56) David Wright (drumr56)  says:

Ann (and some of your sources),

Business Analyst's have to work with other people, that's a given, but so do used car salesmen. It is what you do with those people's time that counts.

A good Business Analyst's does not meet other people's needs, they determine what are the needs of the organization overall, its requirements. The other people, mainly Subject Matter Experts, are not the Business Analyst's customers, they are fellow team members with different roles, just like the PM and the developer and so on.

The only real customers in the world are the ones that buy an organizations products or services. Inside an organization, all people are contributors to the success of the organization. As soon as people start talking about internal customers and charges and "funny money", the focus on servicing the real customers suffers.

So don't say that I have customer service skills, I have Business Analysis skills; and you can try to teach those to anyone, but not all will be able to learn and exercise these skills. If that was the case, there would no un-met demand for the skills, the ones those CEOs are looking for.

May 28, 2010 6:57 PM David Wright David Wright  says:

I forgot:

"A business person will be able to figure out the technology needs along the way."

Seriously? again, seriously? I work with business people everyday, who are thrilled that I am there to lead the way.... Each time I read that statement, it boggles my mind more and more....

Jun 2, 2010 12:30 PM Craig Brown Craig Brown  says:

This reminds me of the debate about whether former shoe salespeople should be running the company or whether it's better to put an MBA in the hot seat.

David made the comment that the person in the role will lead to success or failure, and while that is true, it's also true that the scale and complexity of an organisation and it's context will drive the need for a jack of all trades versus a specialist.

Nov 3, 2010 1:30 PM Warren Scorgie Warren Scorgie  says:

I loved the fact that Customer Service is given credit for being a successful BA. I find it extremely easier to deal with End-users, more specifically to extract critical information out of them.Inter acting with different stakeholders in the organisation is crucial to gather their requirements and are core for me as a BA to cater for those requirements and still meet the business objectives.

I love this article.....


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