A Short Life Story of a BA – What is a Business Analyst and How Did I Become One?!?

In 1996 I was half way through 3 years part-time evening postgraduate IT while working a full-time day job in the insurance industry. I had a young family (my wife and I had 2 daughters under 2), so it was a pretty draining period for my wife and I. I came home at least once to find both daughters AND my wife crying after a long, difficult day.

With a good portion of my studies behind me, I had begun searching for roles which aligned better with where I wanted my career to head. I was really enjoying programming and I saw myself getting into a hands-on technical role. I had applied to a large Queensland-based financial services company for an Analyst/Programmer role and secured an interview. I thought the interview went pretty well, however I was unsuccessful in that particular role. The company DID get back to me though, and asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for a Business Analyst role, based in a business team rather than a technical team. “Sure!”, I said with enthusiasm… not really being too sure exactly what a Business Analyst did. I successfully secured that role, and the rest is literally my career history.

So, what is a Business Analyst – what is the value of the role to the business, and what does a “BA” do from day to day? Disclaimer – my children still claim to not understand what I do, so I’ll try to give a better explanation here than what I have apparently managed with them!

I’ll get to a formal industry definition of the role in a moment, but I’d like to start with my own definition, based on my own experience.

My definition goes something like this:

Business Analysis is primarily a communication profession, with secondary focus on analysis and problem solving. In the simplest terms possible, I have often found that the KEY, defining role of a Business Analyst is to bridge the conceptual and communication gap between business and technology teams. This is done using a range of formal or semi-formal models and tools, such as UML models, business process models (using BPMN), and business models using the Business Model Canvas.

As a Business Analyst, I know what technology can do for a business, and I can express that in business terms. I also know how to express business needs and motivations in ways technology teams will understand, so they can deliver a product which addresses those needs. I find those two key abilities, which are both communication skills underpinned by a sound knowledge framework, are what makes a good and successful business analyst.

More specifically, a Business Analyst:

  • Learns about and succinctly documents the business model of an organisation, including key concepts, processes, rules, stakeholders and actors and their goals in interacting with the organisation.
  • Having documented that information about the business, they work with the business to define problems and opportunities (sometimes referred to as SWOT – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).
  • Once the problems and opportunities are identified, the Business Analyst works with the business and technology teams to define options to address problems, and capitalise on opportunities. Those options will often, but not always, involve modification of existing business processes and systems.
  • Where systems are involved, the Business Analyst will be key to collaboratively defining the characteristics of the system solution (those characteristics being what are often referred to as “requirements” – a term I live with but do not prefer, due to the ambiguity often associated with it… but that’s a discussion for another day).

In summary of my own definition, a Business Analyst:

  • Communicates with the business to define problems, opportunities, needs and system requirements
  • Communicates with the technology teams to define and implement technology solutions which address business needs

What does one of the world’s leading professional organisations for Business Analysts say about definition of the Business Analyst role? As defined by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) in the A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), Business Analysis  is:

“…the practice of enabling change in an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders. Business analysis enables an enterprise to articulate needs and the rationale for change, and to design and describe solutions that deliver value.”

And a Business Analyst is:

“…any person who performs business analysis tasks, no matter their job title or organisational role.”

I find those definitions to be useful in a generic, foundational sense, but lacking in some of the specifics and pragmatism I have attempted to provide. That is to say, my definitions are not in conflict with the IIBA definitions – just somewhat closer to what I have learned through my own experience.

I hope this article has provided you with an improved understanding of WHAT a Business Analyst does. In the next article we’ll have a look at a worked example of WHAT a BA does, to make some of these concepts more concrete and relatable. If you have specific questions you would like answered, please leave a note in the comments, or email me at david.nimmo@neoviz.com.au.

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