Business Analysts – connecting business and technology

Jul 27

Business Analysis is emerging as a critical skill for 21st century organisations, and the global demand for good business analysts greatly exceeds the supply.

Steve Erlank, CEO of Faculty Training Institute, one of South Africa’s leading providers of Business Analysis training, provides some insight into this important and lucrative role:

“In the modern world, technology applications have moved out of the back-office and into the consumer and social domain. While traditional IT systems still form the backbone of modern applications, business solutions as a whole have become immeasurably more complex, and are now used by a range of stakeholders and users that are both demanding and technology-literate.”

Consequently, there is a widening gap between the needs of business to create innovative, cost effective and reliable solutions that meet business goals, and the ability of the traditional IT function, which must design, develop, implement and maintain the complex systems that form part of the solution.

A spin-off of this trend is that business has begun to demand much more value from its investment in IT. Unsurprisingly, this places additional pressure on the IT function, which is now required to divert attention from its more technical focus and deliver solutions against business value objectives.

IT organisations have traditionally delivered solutions using a range of technical resources, like software developers, systems analysts and a variety of other specialists who are primarily technology-oriented, and who rely on the business to be able to articulate its own vision, needs and requirements accurately, a practice which largely fails because of the different contexts, goals and vocabularies within which business and IT people operate.

Enter the Business Analyst (BA).

‘The main role of the Business Analyst is to act as an intermediary between business and IT’ says Erlank. ‘The core responsibility of the BA is to identify business goals and requirements and to convey these in a coherent way to IT, who are the suppliers of technology-based solutions. But increasingly, companies are beginning to demand that their BA’s also take on the responsibility of ensuring that business value is delivered along with the solution.’ Business Analysts are beginning to operate where IT does not go.

What business value can BA’s add, over and above their typical requirement-generating role? Senior or experienced BA’s, acting proactively on behalf of business, acts as a kind of internal business consultant by:

• Solving all sorts of business problems proactively and permanently
• Increasing access to critical information
• Speeding up projects (which saves time and money)
• Helping to create business efficiencies and effectiveness
• Reducing organisational risk

A fly in the ointment is the world-wide short supply of senior-level, experienced BA’s who have this special mix of business acumen, experience, IT knowledge and inter-personal skills. South African companies are suffering from a lack of qualified specialists in this domain, a problem which is exacerbated by weaknesses in our educational system.

The Knowledge Age requires (and benefits) people who are technology-literate, business-literate and who have good communication, planning and thinking skills. It is widely acknowledged that our educational system is not generating enough people with the skills to benefit from the new world of employment.

In addition, “Universities and other tertiary institutions, which should be the primary source of individuals with these skills, are just not turning enough people at the appropriate level of core skills” says Erlank, “and remember, senior BA’s need workplace experience as well as training and skills, which universities are not well positioned to provide”. When one takes into account brain-drain and the fact that many other jobs are competing in the same pool of multi-skilled individuals with the same basic skills sets, the extent of the problem becomes obvious.”

In South Africa various Seta’s have recognised the critical nature of this shortage. Business Analysis is one of the targeted skills of Cape Town’s CAPACITY 1000 programme run under the auspices of the Inseta. Fasset (serving the financial services industry) and the Department of Labour, list Business Analysis as a Scarce Skill in South Africa. The MICT Sera has identified a shortage of several hundred BA’s among it members, and recently awarded Faculty Training Institute ISOE status (Institute of Sectoral and Occupational Excellence) in recognition of its contribution to the skilling of Business Analysts in South Africa, and with a view to increasing the number of candidates entering the profession.

So while the demand for BA’s is growing, the supply is sorely lacking. Erlank estimates that there may be as many as 10 000 people currently working as Business Analysts in South Africa , and that demand for senior and experienced business analysts could be as much as several hundred a year for the next few years. In the current economic times, many companies have put non-critical IT projects on hold, but when the inevitable economic cycle turns, this demand for BA’s could even double, as these projects are taken off the back burner.

Some companies that recognise the value of BA’s are experimenting with outsourcing options in their desperation to obtain the expert opinion of these new age professionals and to plug the gap.

“While there is some value in consulting with external specialists, or in using contract BA’s to identify and document known requirements,” notes Erlank “ forward-thinking companies are starting to realise how much business knowledge and expertise is accumulated by experienced BA’s. It may make economic sense to outsource many IT service functions; it does not always make sense to outsource a function (Business Analysis) that incorporates so much knowledge of a company’ core business and operational know-how – it’s processes, business rules, products, services, business data and its applications.’ Outsourcing your business analysts make result in outsourcing your strategic advantage, especially if those BA’s end up working for a competitor.

The implications of skills shortages in critical skill sets provide both opportunities and threats. Forward thinking companies that rely on business analysis will be looking seriously at recruitment, training and retention policies as they seek to develop their BA portfolios from within, and retain good staff. Individuals with the right skills profiles will be starting to invest in their education and training with a view to entering or progressing in this lucrative career. Small businesses, consulting firms and service providers who can provide or resource quality BA services will open up business opportunities.

“There is no real practical limit to the potential for business analysts.” says Erlank. “Because they are multi-skilled, they have a number of specialisations open to them. As business and business roles continue to evolve we will see roles like Business Architect emerging as the natural progression for a senior BA.

 

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