The evolution of the business analyst – answering the “why”, not the “what”
Will a robot take my job? With the rise of automation, including driverless cars, drones and smart technology, this is one of the most relevant questions of our time. If we make it more specific to the world of business analysts (BAs), we have two contrasting viewpoints – yes, says the BA Times1, no says the BBC2.
At BSG, we believe it depends on how you view the role of the BA:
- If you see it as being focused on defining models, processes and documents in the context of very linear, structured and predictable business change – then yes, this is a construct that is well suited to automation.
- However, if you as BSG has done over the last 20 years – you view the role as an empathetic, creative, critical-thinking, engaging problem solver, playing a critical role in bridging the gap between IT and business teams to drive business change – then that fits squarely into the set of roles that cannot be automated easily or at all.
During BSG’s history we have seen the incremental evolution of the BA role and BSG has driven the need for BAs to understand how the business operates and the strategic priorities of their company. As executives require meaningful and useful information to make more informed decisions, so BAs have gone from answering the what to answering the why. In order to be at the frontline of this evolution, BSG has been trusted by a number of large South African corporates in developing their BA capabilities through a comprehensive BA Centre of Excellence (CoE).
To ascertain if the most pressing problems are being solved a BA needs to utilise design, commercial and engineering thinking – while ensuring the customer experience is always top-of-mind. In the past, a BA typically followed methodologies focused on analysis and documentation, summarising what was relayed to them. This is contrary to BSG’s thinking, as we have long been advocating that BAs need to have cross-functional skills and think business and technology with one brain.
This significant change in the skillsets required by BAs has been highlighted in a 2015 Forrester Research report, run in conjunction with The International Institute of Business Analysis, in which 900 business analysts were interviewed. Mary Gerush, a Forrester analyst, comments in the report how the changing technology environment is altering the world in which BAs work and consequently impacting the skills they require. She advises BAs need to stay up-to-date with technology changes if they want to add value to their organisations.
The impact of the modern consumer also needs to be factored into the changing role of the BA. If organisations want to remain relevant and successful, they need to be able to react quickly by understanding their customers to anticipate their needs, meet their expectations and address their problems. Coupled with this is the desire to ensure value is being delivered to the end customer – requiring organisations to have flexible systems and BAs to be willing to adapt to these changing requirements – while designing for change.
A BA has to be able to assist their organisation innovate more effectively and ensure they derive business value from whatever innovation they’re involved in. Yet research undertaken in South Africa by BCMG has revealed 54% of BAs do not work with centralised practices, 43% do not plan their own work, 21% work without a formal job description and 43% do not have the necessary resources to perform their role optimally3. When designing programmes for our clients, BSG positions BAs in focused, cross-functional teams, as per experience gleaned from many projects. An example of this a project in which BSG assisted a large asset finance house to fundamentally shape their future direction by reviewing the existing BA capability and establishing a Centre of Excellence, to drive business analysis best practice across the organisation.
BSG believes organisations should be utilising the unique on-the-ground perspective of BAs to highlight if projects are aligned to the organisation’s strategy. The BA role has rapidly evolved from tick-the-box and sourcing specific requirements to assisting in aligning and driving organisational strategy; giving BAs an opportunity to deliver real business value, while assessing if customer needs are being met and if not, how to better meet these needs. The diagram below shows how the traditional BA has had to evolve into a problem solver who adds value.
When assessing a client’s BA capability, BSG will also assist in recruiting and building the right BA skill set. This is validated by the Forrester Research report, which reveals how the adoption of Agile methodologies and Lean concepts are impacting the skills BAs require. Ideally, BA roles need to be adapting to new software delivery methods and process changes. Updating of skills is therefore key if a BA wants to remain relevant in the rapidly evolving technology world. BSG would recommend a BA truly understand the change and new methodologies to assess the impact on their organisation and enable them to guide the transformation of their role and practices.
Part of the new thinking required by a BA is to get their organisation to embrace the innovation by design approach to find desirable solutions that benefit the end user. By looking to see how to match what a person needs with what is technologically feasible, the BA can guide their organisation towards customer value and market opportunities.
The innovation by design approach comprises:
- Insight innovation: the end user experience is at the forefront of solution development, with the needs of the customer identified by engaging and observing customers, not presuming what they need
- Experimenting before investing large sums of money: concepts are built through experimentation and incorporating customer feedback in an iterative process, to build the minimal viable product to answer the customers’ needs
- Incremental product development process: a more scalable product is built that can deliver value, adding features as required or the need is identified
BSG encourages BAs to ask why, upfront, to ensure they know why the project is being undertaken and can clearly show the value the business can derive. Constant change will be required to meet and satisfy the demanding customer needs. As business becomes more complex and more economically challenging, organisations would do well to ensure their BAs operate in a multi-skilled business role.
- 2015 Inter-View Report, Business Analysis Community Portrait
BSG is an African consulting and technology company with 20 years’ experience across the banking, specialised financial services, insurance, telecommunications and oil and gas sectors. Clients utilise BSG’s services because we ‘get it done with you’, by creating flow between business and IT executives. Through a collaborative approach we solve our clients most important business problems, accelerate their business performance and grow the sustainability of their people. BSG enables this customer-centric approach by journeying with our clients from needs to results, using fact-based decision-making.