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What Is Business Analysis?

Updated on October 7, 2015
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Business Analysis

As IT has become increasingly important in business, the role of the business analyst (or BA) has also developed and expanded. Many companies, both large and small, are turning to the services of business analysts to help them better understand their sector and how best to run their company. But what does a BA do? And what does the term ‘business analysis’ actually cover? This article aims to provide an overview and introduction to business analysis and looks at some suggestions for those looking to become a business analyst.

What Is a Business Analyst?

A business analyst is, in simple terms, a professional who will evaluate and analyse a business and the way that it runs. A BA will examine either a business as a whole or a certain area within a business and will determine what could be improved upon, solutions to any problems and how to implement any new developments or changes. Usually a business analyst will form an initial, objective evaluation of a company or specific area and will then come up with a report that provides solutions and suggestions for problem areas. The main objectives of business analysis are to help companies improve their efficiency, productivity and profitability. The services of a BA are usually acquired to bring a fresh and experienced perspective to the table. Depending on what is required, it make take a few days, a month or a year for a BA to complete a full evaluation.

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Types of Business Analyst

The title of ‘business analyst’ covers a wide range of professionals with differing skills and areas of expertise. Enterprise analysis will deal with the business as a whole and will help companies to optimise their structure and architecture and will help them to find new opportunities to expand and develop. Some BAs will specifically deal with the strategy side of the business and will work closely with senior management. A business systems analyst will deal with IT development and organisation and will work to ensure that the IT systems implemented in a business are fulfilling their intended role and are providing good returns. Some BAs will be particularly knowledgeable about certain systems or types of software, and will specialise in these areas. Functional business analysts will evaluate how the business runs and the overall business process.

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Business Analysis Techniques

Business analysts use a number of different techniques to evaluate a company, an industry, or a particular area. They may map out processes, document how the business runs, take surveys or run focus groups to better understand the company. There are a number of techniques that are particularly associated with business analysis. Many of these techniques have been adopted by companies and individuals to help with assessment, planning and development. These techniques can help business analysts to spot problem areas, to develop new methods and opportunities and to evaluate an organisation.

SWOT, PESTLE & MOST

A commonly used technique is SWOT analysis. SWOT analysis determines the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for a company, an industry, a product or even an individual. Strengths and Weaknesses are internal factors while Opportunities and Threats are external factors that may have an effect on the success of a company.

Other techniques that utilise acronyms are PESTLE and MOST. Using MOST will help analysts and companies to put projects and developments into action. They will look at the ‘Mission’, i.e. what they want to do, the Objectives, i.e. the goals that will help achieve the mission, the Strategies, how they will move the project forward and the Tactics, how they will go about putting the plan into action. PESTLE looks at the variety of external factors that may have an impact on a business. These factors are Political, Economic, Sociological, Technological, Legal and Environmental.

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Six Hats & Five Whys

When a business analyst is helping a company to identify problems and come up with new ideas they may use processes called ‘Six Thinking Hats’ and the ‘Five Whys’. Six Thinking Hats aims to help groups to think about things in different ways. The group will ‘put on’ a coloured hat that will represent a certain way of thinking. For example when the group has a green hat on they will think creatively, trying to come up with new ideas. When the group is wearing a black hat they will think in a discerning manner about the problems and pitfalls that may arise in a project. The Five Whys can be used to come to the root of a problem, each time an explanation or answer is given a further question of ‘why’ will be asked.

Becoming a Business Analyst: Students

Business analysis can be an interesting and varied line of work. For those who are still in education and thinking about working towards a business analyst position it can be very useful to choose a business analysis degree course. Some universities will offer courses focused on business analysis, but a general business course or a business studies, management or finance course will often include useful business analysis modules. Experience, however, is just as crucial, if not more so, than a formal degree course. Students should look to gain some experience in a summer job or an internship. You could even shadow a business analysis firm to gain a better understanding and gain some contacts who are already ‘in the business’.

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Becoming a Business Analyst: Professionals

For those who already have some experience of business and may have transferable skills then taking a training course and getting accredited may be the next step. There are a number of organisations that run training schemes and examinations that result in certification. In the UK the most widely recognised certifications are from the BCS’ Information Systems Examination Board (or ISEB). When you are looking for a good training course, it can be helpful to look for ones that follow the ISEB and result in a BCS Business Analysis Diploma. You can find a variety of different business analysis courses that pertain to different industries, sectors or even particular aspects of business.

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