How to Become a Business Analyst
What Tools Do Business Analysts Use?
At the heart of what Business Analysts do are a battery of core technical competencies ranging from project management to diagramming to requirements management. And for each one of these tasks, there’s a tool – and often, more than one. Here are a few of the most common categories of digital tools and software that Business Analysts use to get the job done and keep their projects in order.
Types of Business Analysis Tools
Requirements Management: Central to every business analysis task is defining in the clearest possible terms what exactly is needed from (and for) all stakeholders – including documenting, analyzing, tracking, prioritizing, and communicating those requirements. That’s a lot to manage. Requirements management software is designed to simplify all the aspects of this task, keeping things organized and, most importantly, making sure nothing is overlooked.
Project Management: Business analysis is typically an endeavor that strives to achieve its goals within a specified timeframe – one that works on discrete projects, that is, as opposed to one that is ongoing. Project management is simply the skill of seeing a project through to successful completion, on schedule and on budget, given its constraints. Easier said than done. Factors that need to be weighed include everything from the aforementioned constraints to legal requirements, the management of the resources it takes to do the work, and quality control of the deliverables themselves. Fortunately, project management software exists to keep all these moving parts running smoothly.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Getting into the focus of a Business Analyst’s work itself, enterprise resource planning is the management of what and how a business does what it does – its main processes, the oversight of how these processes unfold, and, typically, the technology that enables and mediates them. ERP software is the category of tools used to gather and manage the business data at the heart of business analysis.
Modeling / Diagramming: To turn raw data into easy-to-interpret (and easy-to-communicate) models, Business Analysts turn to software yet again. Here, “model” means not only visual or virtual models of things with a tangible structure, but abstract concepts as well – like decisions. Decision models are a kind of mental diagram for clarifying the logic behind a given business decision, accounting for (and notating) all the relevant factors brought to bear on the process.
Wireframing: Anytime structure is involved – the user experience of a piece of software, the delivery schedule for a project, the site map of a website, corporate process architecture – a wireframe can help to define and clarify things. In business analysis, wireframing is often used to create software prototypes or develop code architecture during pre-production.
While these five categories of tools do much of the Business Analyst’s heavy lifting, there are additional tools to help with all manner of different tasks or needs – far too many to list here, but these are a few worth knowing.
Collaboration / Communication: Business Analysts almost by definition work with various groups of people, stakeholders from different organizations and different departments within organizations. Email’s great, but for intra-group collaboration, especially when many hands are making changes to a single document or model, additional tools often come into play.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM): In the online world, tracking customers’ comings and goings, and keeping them happy, is a job unto itself. CRM software helps automate these interactions and, more importantly, logs data that can provide Business Analysts with incredibly valuable insights into the minds of their customers.
Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) / Extract, Load, Transform (ELT): The thing being extracted, transformed, and loaded in this case is data. ETL software is used to take data from a business’s myriad sources for producing it, prepare it, and move it into a “data warehouse” where it can be used to generate analytics. In ELT, the data already loaded into a warehouse is transformed into a more usable form.
Inbound Marketing: In a nutshell, inbound marketing is marketing that is used to draw customers in; as such, it’s heavily predicated on content marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimization – basically, all the things a company can do to increase the traffic flowing in their direction. Inbound marketing software helps coordinate these different campaigns and, just as importantly, measures that traffic, generates analytics, and ultimately provides insight on which inbound marketing strategies are delivering the best return on investment.
Data Visualization: As mentioned previously, persuasion is a big part of what Business Analysts do – and nothing is more persuasive than hard data clearly communicated using striking, easy-to-read visuals. Data visualization software is an important tool for Data Analysts of all stripes, not only for communicating, but also for helping to make sense of patterns in data once they’ve been identified.
What Are the Most Popular Business Analysis Tools?
Microsoft Office – which includes essential business tools like Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and many more – is a must-have skill, essentially unavoidable in any office environment.
In fact, Excel is a common requirements management tracking tool, especially for mid-sized operations. For larger businesses and more highly specialized Business Analysts, there’s Rational Requisite Pro, Jama, ReQtest, Orcanos, and others.
A popular project management tool among Business Analysts is Wrike, a work management app that includes useful features like live editing and file management, schedule timeline diagramming, workload view, and budget management.
For enterprise resource planning, Oracle NetSuite is a frontrunner, thanks to its modularity and user-friendly interface. Other options include Acumatica, SAP, and Sage.
Pencil is used for modeling and diagramming, specifically creating decision models. It also enables multiple stakeholders to interact and track their changes, making modeling a seamless collaborative process. This also makes Pencil a useful tool for wireframing, as it allows clients and other stakeholders to weigh in on a project’s requirements early in the planning phase. Other popular wireframing tools – more often used to model proposed systems or a product’s functional specs – include Balsamiq and Axure.
When email is not enough, web-based project management tool Trello steps up to help different stakeholder groups collaborate, syncing devices and integrating with other platforms. Trello’s board-based interface lets users see what’s being worked on at a glance.
Xplenty is a leader for both ETL and ELT. It’s also possible to source tools for one need or the other – including Domo and Grow for ELT or Skyvia for ETL.
Inbound marketing can involve dozens of different sub-tasks, so it’s no surprise there’s a panoply of CRM tools here, including HubSpot, Salesforce, and Zoho, among others.
There are multiple excellent options for creating data visualizations as well. Microsoft’s Visio is perhaps the most popular with Business Analysts, but Data Analysts might also recommend Tableau, PowerBI, Bokeh, Plotly, or Infogram.
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