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Business Analyst: Qualifications and Duties
“Business Analyst” (or BA for short) is just one of many job titles, terms and phrases used in business these days that can be difficult to define. Ask ten business people to describe what a BA is and you’re likely to get eleven different definitions. There is no doubt that successful BAs play very key roles in their organizations but their work can cover a very broad spectrum of responsibility. This leads to the difficulty in defining just exactly what it is that BAs do.
Business analysis is a discipline. There exists a Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) published by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) and at least one recognized professional certification – Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP). These are useful in establishing the credibility of business analysis as a profession but it still doesn’t tell us what BAs do.
Before trying to tackle what the qualifications and duties of a BA are, it is important to first realize that all facets of an organization that are worthy of consideration involve an interaction of people, processes, and technology. All three of these are very broad topics in their own right and all three must work well together in order for an organization to meet its objectives.
Having sufficient knowledge, experience and competence in all three is a core quality of an effective BA. So the first core characteristic of a BA is to be a systems-based thinker; it may be the case that a BA will have one or more specializations but their primary mode of operation will be that of a generalist. It is the primary responsibility of the business analyst to assist the organization in determining and implementing the changes required to the three main areas of people, process, and technology that will allow the organization to meet their goals.
How to Succeed
To be a successful BA requires a unique skill set as well as subject matter expertise in the industry in which the business analyst’s organization or client operates. Subject matter expertise is necessary to allow the BA to quickly understand the organization’s business, their industry, their challenges and what the critical success factors are for the organization to be successful. This not only allows the BA to be efficient in their work, it also helps them quickly build rapport and credibility with the people they work with within the organization.
Working with people to gather information and influencing people to accept recommended solutions is a core duty of all BAs. Therefore, highly developed communication skills are critical for the BA. This includes not only being able to communicate with and act as interpreter between non-technology and technology stakeholders but also understanding the political dynamics of the organization and adopting an appropriate communication style to suit particular audiences.
There are a whole host of specific skills that are essential to the BA like interviewing skills, systems and financial analysis skills, documentation skills, specific technology and software skills, and more. An effective BA carries all of these in their toolkit. But in the end, what a BA does is solve problems. To do this effectively, the BA applies whatever analytical tools and skills provide the best analysis of the problem and then finds and recommends an optimal solution and finally assists with the implementation of the solution.
It is easy to see why it is so difficult to define specifically what the qualifications and duties of a BA are. Being a problem solver means the BA must continually adapt to the problem at hand. This brings us to the last key competency of the BA – adaptability to change. Business problems typically present themselves in unstructured ways. Often times they present as symptoms rather than as root causes and it is very common for one business problem to have very different stakeholders than the next business problem. All of these features of problems make it essential that a BA be able to adapt their approach to the specific problem at hand and not try to force a cookie-cutter approach to problem solving.
To summarize, all BAs require a robust toolkit of analytic methods, documentation and software skills, systems analysis and design skills, process modeling skills, and interview and facilitation skills. However, all the aforementioned skills will prove ineffective if the BA does not have expert communication skills, subject matter expertise, and a keen adaptability to change.