What Is a Business Analyst?
A Business Analyst (BA) bridges the gap between IT and a business using data analytics to assess business processes, determine business requirements and deliver data-driven recommendations and reports to executives and stakeholders.
A Business Analyst would interact with leaders on the business side as well as users to understand how data-driven changes to processes, products, services, software and hardware could potentially improve efficiency and add value. A Business Analyst must also balance those ideas against what’s technologically realistic and financially reasonable. Depending on the role, a Business Analyst might also work with data sets to improve products, hardware, tools, software, services or processes.
What Are the Responsibilities of a Business Analyst?
Although the specifics will vary based on the exact role that a person has, the Business Analyst job description will usually include all of the following key responsibilities:
Leading ongoing reviews of business processes and the business model and leading the development of optimization strategies
Evaluating and improving business processes, anticipating requirements and business problems, unearthing areas for improvement, and leading the development and implementation of solutions
Staying up-to-date on the latest process and IT advancements to modernize systems
Performing requirement analysis
Working closely with stakeholders, clients, technicians, and managerial staff
Documenting and communicating the results of your efforts
Effectively communicating insights and plans to cross-functional team members and management
Gathering and sharing important information from meetings and producing useful reports
Allocating resources and maintaining cost efficiency
Ensuring solutions meet business requirements and needs
Performing user acceptance testing
Leading project management initiatives, developing project plans, and monitoring project performance
Updating, implementing and maintaining procedures
Prioritizing initiatives based on business needs and requirements
Serving as a liaison between stakeholders and users
Monitoring deliverables and ensuring projects are completed on time
Where Do Business Analysts Come From?
A Business Analyst can come from a variety of different educational and professional backgrounds, but most Business Analysts have an educational background and skills in a related field like business or computer science and/or a professional background in IT or tech.
It would be tricky to become a Business Analyst without a degree at all, but there aren’t hard requirements around exactly which degree you might need. Perhaps ideal would be in an area of study somewhat related to business, like business administration, computer science, accounting, finance, information systems, operations management, logistics, or even human resources.
But that would just be the beginning of your path to qualifying for a job as a BA. The other pieces of the puzzle would include professional experience, skills training, and professional certification.
When it comes to professional experience, those working in a Business Analyst role now tend to have previously held positions relating to business, analytics, IT, or HR.
But if you’re looking to get into a Business Analyst role with no prior experience, certification would be an important step. Gaining skills through a professional certification -- and then eventually accumulating more -- is important for BAs, who must show a lifelong commitment to learning. Most people working in a Business Analyst role would have a certification from organizations like the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), the Institute of Management Consultants (IMC), BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, the International Qualification Board for Business Analysis (IQBBA), Certified Professional for Requirements Engineering (CPRE), or Professional in Business Analysis (PBA).
Deciding which certification to pursue will ultimately come down to your location, budget and specific career goals as a Business Analyst. Research these and more to decide which certification is right for you.
Characteristics of an Effective Business Analyst
Effective Business Analysts tend to have a few qualities in common beyond what's in their job descriptions. Here are the skills and characteristics that all great BAs seem to share:
1. Top-Notch Communication Skills
A Business Analyst must communicate with a wide diversity of stakeholders -- people with wildly different backgrounds and professional roles -- in a way that is clear, efficient and pleasant. A BA also has to be able to articulate her or his own value and to sometimes persuade management to change their priorities.
None of that is easy, so succeeding as a Business Analyst requires having an uncommon way with words, both verbally and in writing. Written reports should be clear, concise and well-written, free of unnecessary bulk and of course any errors.
A Business Analyst also must lean on these skills to navigate meetings, presentations, and workshops.
2. They Listen
Typically, when we talk about communication skills we mean someone has a way with words -- but it’s just as crucial that a Business Analyst knows how to listen.
A Business Analyst must listen carefully as clients lay out what they need, and they must also listen closely in communicating with software development teams about timelines and budgets.
Further, those working in business analysis have to master the art of active listening. By nodding and maintaining eye contact, BAs make sure stakeholders feel heard. A BA should keep an open mind and know how to acknowledge dissenting viewpoints with tact.
A BA should also know how to keep a meeting moving by subtly nudging a conversation along. On that note, it’s inevitable in business analysis activities that you will spend a lot of time in meetings, but an effective Business Analyst would make them as efficient as possible for everyone’s benefit.
3. They’re Analytical
Maybe it’s obvious given that the word “analyst” is in their job titles, but a good Business Analyst is indeed an analytical thinker who can interpret business needs and translate them into operational requirements.
A Business Analyst must look at information from a variety of sources, such as documentation, surveys and existing business systems. Someone in a Business Analyst position should be passionate about data analysis and creative in coming up with different angles from which to analyze it to the benefit of the businesses they're serving.
There could be meaningful insights hidden in plain sight in the data, and it takes a good Business Analyst to extensively analyze that data before even considering coming up with a neat solution to solve the problem. It’s worth pointing out that a good Business Analyst also knows when it’s time to stop scrutinizing the data and time to start working on a solution.
4. They’re Problem Solvers
If you ask a successful Business Analyst about the best part of their career, the answer might be that they get to solve problems.
In most organizations, including non-profits ,solutions to business issues aren’t straightforward. A good Business Analyst has to think critically and look at these situations from a variety of angles, considering multiple scenarios and operations, before arriving at a solution -- and a change -- that will work for the organization. That usually involves exploring the effects on revenue, costs, sales, and performance metrics.
A good Business Analyst will also show how they arrived at this conclusion and make a solid business case once it’s time to persuade stakeholders to approve the plan. Usually, finding a solution will effect change within an organization -- perhaps it’s a situation where a change is needed in a business process or a technology should be improved -- and for that to happen, a Business Analyst must get buy-in from top stakeholders. If they understand a BA’s thought process, they’ll be more likely to buy in to the suggested business process.
5. They Exercise Good Judgment
To put it simply, a Business Analyst needs to be level-headed. It’s a Business Analyst’s responsibility to offer counsel to management, key stakeholders and software development teams. Business analysis is about helping a colleague or organization make the right decisions to get things right for the overall benefit of the organization.
It’s also a Business Analyst’s job to facilitate decisions. Indecisive leadership can be a huge problem for any organization. A good Business Analyst would define which decisions need to be made, who will make those decisions, and what information the decision maker should leverage to make the right decision.
In a situation where the decision is being made by a group, it’s a Business Analyst’s role -- and it’s not an easy one -- to somehow wrangle buy-in from everyone. It’s one of the most important Business Analyst skills.
6. They Have Knowledge in a Range of Areas
In business analysis, it might seem like a BA has to be an expert in everything. That’s impossible for even the most clever BA, but it is true that a Business Analyst should have at least basic knowledge and skills in a range of different disciplines.
Most in business analysis feel at home in IT. But they have to deal with many stakeholders and colleagues outside of the IT bubble, so it pays for a Business Analyst to know about the world, business trends, new tech and the business process.
Those working in business analysis who do have a diverse knowledge background will more easily elicit the right information from stakeholders and identify business opportunities. These BAs also tend to be more versatile in their creative problem-solving and more open to trying new business analytics tools, techniques and products.
What Are Some Similar Jobs to a Business Analyst Role?
There are certainly some job titles that share some of the same responsibilities as a Business Analyst, including:
Project Manager: Project management and business analysis roles are frequently combined into one under this job title. Project Managers can move towards a role more focused on business analysis by focusing on the business needs, the requirements process, the business process, and product scope.
Software Developer: In a small organization with no dedicated Business Analyst, it’s quite possible a Software Developer may actually conduct business analysis and data analysis. A Software Developer could be involved in reviewing requirements specifications, creating design documentation, and managing change requests. A Software Developer who wants to become a Business Analyst could review or update requirements documentation, incorporate requirements models into technical design documentation, and begin to ponder business needs and requirements.
Systems Analyst: Generally, the Business Systems Analyst role identifies someone who is responsible for the technical design of a software system but may not do actual coding. However, unlike a Business Analyst role, a Systems Analyst needs to have a fairly deep understanding of technology.
Quality Assurance Engineer: A Quality Assurance Engineer will typically take care of test planning and test case development. They could also be responsible for the creation or maintenance of a test environment. A QA Engineer can move towards a BA role by looking at their test plans as a business process and overseeing changes that occur during the test cycle.
Product Manager: The Product Manager is the product owner, and is therefore responsible for defining the why, when, and what of any product that the engineering team builds. As product owner, the Product Manager must lead cross-functional teams from a product's conception all the way through its entire life cycle.
Business Intelligence Analyst: Business Intelligence Analyst is a role that uses data analytics, data visualization and data modeling techniques and technologies to find trends that help other departments, managers and executives make decisions to improve their businesses. BI Analysts need to have strong business analytics skills.
Who Does a Business Analyst Work With?
Business Analysts tend to work as part of larger IT teams, but they could find themselves collaborating with practically every level of an organization.
Those in business analysis will work with development, sales, marketing, finance, legal, and design teams, sometimes all within the span of a day. They’ll also work closely with organization management and other top decision-makers.
Reasons to become a Business Analyst
If you’re considering whether a Business Analyst career would be right for you, here are some of the top reasons to become a Business Analyst:
1. A Career With Variety
You’ll find that any number of Business Analyst roles could call for completely different skills and responsibilities.
Some Business Analysts work almost exclusively on the business side, while others are in highly technical roles. Some BAs design technical solutions for businesses, while others are more like a Process Analyst spending more time defining and adjusting process flow.
There’s also the fact that virtually every major organization will hire Business Analysts, so you could work in any industry that interests you.
2. A Career With Job Security
It seems the secret is out and seemingly every right-thinking organization has realized the tremendous value brought by hiring a Business Analyst. In fact, the Business Analyst job market is expected to grow by 19 percent over the next 10 years according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, meaning 140,000 new jobs for Business Analysts.
If you’re looking for a career field that’s rich in opportunity, look no further than Business Analyst.
3. High Salaries
With all the demand for Business Analysts, it’s natural that their salaries would be high. The average salary for a Business Analyst in the United States is $79,212 according to Indeed plus an average of $4,000 in cash bonuses annually.
Other factors will boost that number even higher. In places like New York and California, a Business Analyst can certainly expect a higher salary.
A Business Analyst can also expect a raise after securing a certification. A common certification to show up in Indeed’s job listing is the Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification, which Indeed said correlated to a 13 percent pay bump for Business Analysts.
4. No Two Days Are the Same
Business Analyst is a great career for people who don’t want to do the same thing day-in, day-out. A Business Analyst typically gets to set their own schedule, so if you want to spend the day eliciting requirements or conducting meetings, you have the freedom to do that.
All projects are different too, so the challenges a Business Analyst faces every day will require new investigations and new solutions.
If variety is something you value in a career, you might make for a good BA.
5. Make a Difference
At the core of the role, a Business Analyst works to solve complex problems that businesses are having. At a high level, that requires understanding organizations' problems and pain points, developing a clear and holistic picture of the current state of an organization, breaking the problem down into smaller pieces, coming up with the solution, and helping to test and implement the solution, which in the end, should solve the initial problem.
Those processes aren’t easy, but when you’re on the other side and you hear how you helped organizations or businesses save money or create a better product, it will be a rewarding feeling.
Seeing the fruit of their labor before getting to move on to another project is another great part of being a Business Analyst.
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