How to Become a Business Analyst
What Does a Business Analyst Do?
The nature of a Business Analyst’s work varies significantly depending on their industry, their level of seniority – even which stage of the business analysis process they focus on. What unifies all Business Analyst jobs is their reliance on technology and data (typically derived from an information system) to develop actionable business insights. The way that process then plays out is never the same twice, but in every case, it will involve research, number-crunching, understanding a business’s requirements, developing clear and actionable strategies, and communicating those strategies to stakeholders.
Again – just how a Business Analyst completes each one of those steps will vary. In general, though, there is a model for the process, and it explains each of these steps and how they contribute to a Business Analyst’s work.
Research: Every project begins by gaining a deep understanding of the business and its goals. This isn’t always as obvious as it sounds; often, businesses’s missions aren’t clearly defined, and ownership may be hazy on what exactly it is their business is doing. A Business Analyst needs to know what a business is currently doing and how it’s doing it – but also elicit the reasons why it’s doing it. Only then can a Business Analyst convey exactly what it is they’re capable of doing to improve a business.
Define: Business Analysts are fundamentally Consultants, making data-driven recommendations – the key phrase being “data-driven.” Business Analysts don’t work with vague suggestions; they work with measurable aspects of a business, developing clear ways to monitor change and determine success. This begins with defining the scope of the problem and the task at hand, defining what’s required to bring an action to fruition, and defining an objective and the metrics that will be used to evaluate different proposals and ultimately measure progress.
Plan: Business analysis is unique among other forms of data analysis in that it’s singularly focused on developing actionable insights that can be applied to a business – in other words, practical insights that inform a specific plan of action. It’s not just about producing data; it’s about turning it into recommendations. This means that understanding the business implications of that data falls to Business Analysts as well. Planning begins when Business Analysts turn their focus on themselves – charting the course for their own proposed business analysis process, and specifying what it is they’re setting out to do and to deliver. As the process concludes, Business Analysts develop clear plans for the business itself – not just making recommendations, but also modeling the costs and forecasting the results of various options.
Implement: Depending on the situation, a Business Analyst may stick around long after they’ve made their recommendations. When it comes to technical solutions, Business Analysts are often responsible for managing the process of putting those solutions in place. This inevitably begins with communication – conveying their insights and recommendations to all stakeholders, from ownership to the employees who will be affected. But as things progress, this can also involve documentation, legal compliance, the development of new technological solutions including information systems or software, and even user testing. In effect, the Business Analyst assumes the role of Project Manager, overseeing the implementation of a plan, ensuring it’s executed correctly, and making any necessary adjustments as new information becomes available.
Typical Employers of Business Analysts
Business Analysts work in every field of business – and not only business, but non-profits, government, education, the public sector, and many other sectors besides.
Software Developers rely heavily on Business Analysts; so much of software development is about roadmapping the product’s development, diagramming workflow, and even the processes that support a piece of software once it goes into operation, all of which include scheduling and budgetary constraints – and which are opportunities ripe for a Business Analyst’s contributions.
For that matter, any company that relies heavily on IT – from e-commerce to media to healthcare networks – can benefit from business analysis, and in many cases, can’t effectively function without it.
Financial institutions, too, because they are extremely process-driven, obsessed with security, and traffic in reams of numerical data, are major employers of Business Analysts.
Government and the public sector are yet another major employer of Business Analysts – in this case, they’re not driven by profits per se, but they’re still very much dependent on being able to forecast future trends and keep major expenditures on-budget, and so are highly dependent on data analysis to guide their operations and decision-making.
These may represent the sectors most heavily dependent on them, but there are opportunities for Business Analysts to make an impact on any type of business – or anywhere else processes, budgets, schedules, forecasting, information systems, and technology or data arise.
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