From requirements engineer to digital business analyst
What does a business analyst do? According to Wikipedia, “Business analyst (BA) is a position or role in an organization that deals with business analysis.” Not particularly revealing. But there’s more: “The main task of business analysts is listening, questioning, understanding, structuring and documenting”. What about designing? Strange. And finally: “A business analyst is the connection between the technical field and the IT team.” So a type of mediator or translator?
You might have noticed that I don’t like this role description. But what does the role of business analyst look like and, more excitingly, how is it changing in businesses that are taking on the challenge of a digital transformation?
If you ask a business analyst about their job profile today, you will get a range of different answers. Some are focused on business process analysis. They support strategy management in their business. Others work in IT on particular projects and develop requirements for IT-supported solutions. They fulfill the classical role of the requirements engineer. In many organizations, requirements engineering is seen as a reactive, implementation-orientated task: the requirements are already somehow in the stakeholders’ heads. They only have to be taken out and formed.
For many other business analysts, the role is not as clear. This was the case for two business analysts whom I met recently. They work in product development of the interface between the professional field and software development at an American firm. But their roles were far more than “translating” or “mediating” between these two areas. Agile processes were new to the organization and the managers were having a hard time with the role of product owner, so the business analysts took care of these tasks. Together with the department’s employees, they specified the functionality of the new product that was just developed. Then, they created use cases for it! They described, prioritized and sliced the use cases so that they could flow into the Kanban-esque development process. With their knowledge of technology, they also developed non-functional requirements for the product. But they’re not stuck on the level of requirements. They also supervised the use of developed product components to drive change and fix bugs where necessary. Product manager, product owner, technical manager of a product team and requirements engineer – they see themselves as a bit of everything.
One reason for the different interpretations of the role of business analysts is the broad scope of business analysis. It starts, as pictured in figure 1 – with strategic activity. It creates clarity over the need of an organization and potential technical or organizational solution approaches. They are evaluated with reference to their potential value and the related risks. The scope of business analysis reaches right to the operative activities of requirements engineering that enable technological implementation of the selected solution as well as evaluation of the developed solution. These days, most business analysts are either strategic or operative.
Digital technology like the cloud, blockchain, augmented and virtual reality, analytics, KI and machine learning give businesses the chance to provide their customers with new, innovative value offers. The options are diverse:
- Start with new, superior customer/user experiences that bring the customers closer to the business.
- Then with digitized processes that increase the business’s efficiency, reduce costs and strengthen the market position.
- And then to new business models that gain market share with innovative products and unique services.
This future has already begun in many organizations. So it’s time to gain an understanding of the way that digitization influences the role of business analyst.
The IIBA sees three different categories for the role of digital business analyst : the digital strategist, the digital specialist and the cross-functional acting BA professional. Let’s take a closer look at each of these roles.
Digitization strategists support management in evaluating the digital maturity of an organization when determining the digital time and the development of a strategy for the digital transformation, including a product and service roadmap. They are in a position to:
- Understand and evaluate technology trends and the chances connected with them,
- Develop business models,
- Define business architecture,
- Communicate the potential business value.
Digitization specialists use their specialized technological know-how to implement and validate the organization’s digital goals. They:
- Understand digital technology and its use cases,
- Analyze business processes in detail,
- Identify weaknesses and unsatisfying situations for customers and find digital solutions,
- Process requirements for digital solutions.
Cross-functional acting BA professionals are practical and think outside of their original areas. This means that they insert themselves especially into agile organizations that have done away with traditional role separations in projects. They’re in a position to consider vastly different pints of view when developing solutions, like UX or information and solution architecture, and to make operative decisions. Earlier, the solution of business problems was overwhelmingly focused on the stakeholders, but now they mainly work customer-orientated. They:
- understand the customer’s language,
- design new customer experiences and customer-orientated solutions,
- manage the product and service life cycles,
- measure and watch the success of the developed solutions.
The new facades of the profile of a business analyst make it clear that in the world of digitization, more business analysts will be needed, because business analysts can help a lot with an organization’s change of path. With digitization, the role of business analysts is also changing: the digital business analyst will become a connection between strategy and technology, and will develop away from reactive and towards prescriptive behavior and more creativity. This also means that business analysts who want to take over the roles of consultants and partners in organizations that are going through a digital transformation have to further develop their core skills. The spectrum of these competencies can be seen in figure 2:
My colleague Lisa May has introduced objectiF RPM’s framework for a digital transformation in multiple blog articles right here. Here, the question is obvious: How does the framework fit in with the roles of the digital business analyst introduced here? The answer is that the framework for a digital transformation in objectiF RPM is so well-developed that there is tool and method support for all three – the digitization strategist, digitization specialist and the cross-functional acting BA professional. Take a look at the framework.
 Digital Business Analysis Essential Competencies for Success, IIBA Global Thought Leadership Series, IIBA June 2018, retrieved from: http://iiba.informz.ca/IIBA/pages/competencies_for_success
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