Trends in business analysis – my perspective

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trends

I started in IT in 1991 and have been through a number of roles and jobs since then, only finding my calling 😉 and emerging as a business analyst in the last twelve years.

I’ve recently been looking back and trying to see how the role has evolved in that period.

Think enterprise, act local

The first trend is the shift of focus from a local, short term, problem-specific approach to take in a progressively broader, longer term view until you take in the entire enterprise (aka enterprise architecture).

The local, short term focus is very much still in evidence but there are certain questions which are recognised more as valid and important

– how does this support the business strategy?

– what are the business benefits?

– the solution should do X but have you decided on the end to end business process that shows where the solution fits?

Of course, in our rush to deliver, we may not be given the time to answer these questions but at least people recognise they are important and valid questions.

Focus on Business not IT

The most important trend for me is the move from business analysis being an activity that defines and delivers IT systems to defining and delivering a business solution. The focus should be on the business and its needs – an IT system may or may not result but it is irrelevant as long as the ‘solution’ is the right one for the business.

The IT tail should not be wagging the business dog.

Recognition of business analysis as a profession

Another trend is the recognition of business analysis as a professional skill. The business world are starting to recognise that an ability to model, understand and analyse the business is a very important skill, especially as the world and businesses change at an ever increasing rate. The low hanging fruit that deliver a quick, cost saving IT solution have almost disappeared. If we are to improve our businesses, we need to understand them better and ensure the changes we make are the right ones now and for the longer term.

The emergence of professional qualifications (ISEB and CBAP) and professional organisations (IIBA – International Institute of Business Analysis) recognises the need to quantify and formalise these skills so that we can understand the range of skills, the level of ability of an individual or organisation and the path to improving that skill. Business analysis is actually very broad and it is unlikely that any one individual is familiar and experienced in the entire range of skills.

Emergence of specialist business analysts

Business analysts tended to have come from either a business background or an IT background. Those with a business background tended to be capable in their particular area of business expertise but weaker in the modelling and, in particular, IT-specific modelling skills. The reverse would be true of a business analyst with an IT background.

There are many flavours of business analysts today which include the following:

watchmaker

Journeyman business analyst

Broad experience of many different industry sectors with good experience of a range of business analysis techniques.
Tends to be freelance or generalist consultant where this sort of experience arises.
Will engage on new jobs and will expect to learn the business area quickly and will be proactive in achieving a productive level of competence quickly.

Business analyst domain expert

Same sector, same company with lots of company-specific business knowledge.
Expertise on business analysis techniques will depend on their motivation, exposure to outside influences and company professional development policies.

Industry sector specialist business analyst

Focussed on an industry sector. Similar to a journeyman business analyst but with focus on a particular industry sector.
Will shape professional development to improve knowledge of industry sector over general business analysis skills.
This sort of individual may well advise on company strategy or drive project requirements borne out of their specialist knowledge.

Specialist business analyst

Focussed around a particular specialism within business analysis. This could be based on a specialism within the business (e.g. business architect, related closely to strategy) or a particular methodology (e.g. Agile or Rational Unified Process).

These are my categorisations based on my observations and experience. I would be interested in whether you recognise this, disagree violently or, for that matter, what category you fit into.
For the record, I would describe myself as a journeyman business analyst who is interested in becoming an industry sector specialist or other type of specialist.
This article identified a number of trends in business analysis over the past tweny years including the broadening of its focus to encompass the enterprise, the shift in focus away from IT to business solutions and the recognition of business analysis as a profession of some importance.
Finally, I described some different types of business analyst that I have observed as part of the maturing of the profession.

Update

Craig Brown on Better Projects took inspiration from this article and gave his own spin in his article BA Taxonomies. Thanks for the mention Craig.

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About Alex Papworth

12 Responses to “Trends in business analysis – my perspective”

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  1. Jill says:

    Thanks for the post Alex. I feel better knowing I slot in somewhere! I am also a journeyman analyst and want to specialise in a particular industry. It's tough finding contracts at the moment though as all the job postings/opportunities are looking for SMEs. It's a catch 22 for me at the moment and very frustrating!!

    • alexpapworth says:

      Hi Jill
      I would have described myself as journeyman analyst. However, I have spent a number of years in the banking sector which has helped me position myself as an industry sector specialist.
      I still believe my skills can be applied more broadly but the market (and my commercial success!) necessitates that my CV reflects long experience in banking.

      Good luck in your job search

      Alex

  2. Robert S says:

    Very interesting Alex – I do sometimes wonder whether I am a business analyst. It sometimes takes an article like yours to put me straight (again). I’d categorise myself under Industry sector specialist business analyst, although of course like most things never quite so clear cut – I’ve gone for BA skills over industry knowledge over the last 3/4 years. Perhaps to my detriment. And certainly not close to strategy.

    Desperately looking to specialise now within my industry. Oh and also a new senior manager who doesn’t keep quoting “analysis paralysis”. Oh dear!

    Can appreciate what Christy experiences, with subject matter experts and little experience else where and also at times with little intention of changing themselves. 🙂

    • Alex P says:

      Thanks for your comment Robert. I think we’re all trying to control our professional development but it’s tricky without any commonly recognised model of BA career paths and capabilities (although that is changing with IIBA etc). It’s my experience that each organisation doesn’t have a very clear view of the business analyst role or if it does have clear view, it is specific to that organisation.
      I suspect you don’t suffer from this if you’re, for example, an accountant or an engineer of some variety.

      Alex

  3. Christy W says:

    I think those are very good observations. I have wondered about these differences before in instances where I cannot directly compare myself to another BA in the same organization. Currently, I view myself as a Journeyman working with several Domain Experts. This can be frustrating at times when those Domain Experts know only about their company.

    What I also find frustrating is when upper management does not take into account these differences when assigning a BA to a particular project. Different types of projects may be more successful with a particular type of BA. It seems that the ‘available’ resource tends to trump the ‘right’ resource.

    Hopefully we will start to see this change. Thanks for pointing the differences out.

    • Alex P says:

      Thanks Christy.

      I guess all we can do is keep explaining the ‘facts of life’ when it comes to business analysis to management. I think we all need to be advocates of our profession and explain the benefits and risks but we can only be successful if we speak in language that is understood.
      Perhaps you could point out the risks and suggest different approaches to mitigating this?

      Alex

  4. Bob Gawecki says:

    Thanks for the article. Have you ever heard of Business Analysts being required to implement Sarbox controls for small public businesses to be compliant? Are there consulting companies who help small businesses do this or do they just hire BAs internally to do this? I don’t remember seeing this in BABOK version 1 and I don’t know if it is in Version 2. If not BAs then who implements SARBOX controls, managers? Thanks!

    • Alex P says:

      Hi Bob

      I would expect implementation to come nder joint responsibility of both the business analyst and project manager. I have limited experience of this and only through large private sector organisations – they tend to have a standard activity embedded into their process to ensure SARBOX compliance with internal documentation and advice to assist them.
      I would expect there are organisations who help with SARBOX but I’m not familiar with any not having had to look any out in the past.
      It would seem too specific thing to include in BABOK. It does raise an interesting question over whether BABOK could evolve to cover this sort of thing which is becoming more ‘standard.
      This is the BABOK blog – why not ask the question?

      HTH

      Alex

  5. Craig Brown says:

    Hi Alex. I really liked this post. Thanks

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