Purpose of this Guide
The term ‘business analysis’ is often used, but there persists a lack of clarity about what it really means, and this creates more questions than answers. What do business analysts do? What skills do they require? How do they add value to organizations? Also, there is no standard definition of business analysis, and no standard process model exists. There are many reasons for this, but two key issues are as follows:
• Organizations have introduced business analysis to make sure that business needs are paramount when new computer systems are being introduced.
• Many business analysts have a business background and have a limited understanding of IT and how computer systems are developed.
We need to examine the discipline known as business analysis and consider how we might define the business analyst role.
The aspects of business analysis work that are well defined are, of course, the various techniques that are available for use in business analysis projects. Many of these techniques have been in use for far longer than the business analyst role has been in existence.
Our aim is to help business analysts carry out their work, improve the quality of business analysis within organizations and, hence, develop the key ingredient for business success – business/IT alignment.
The Origins of Business Analysis
As business operations have changed / are changing, the question we need to ask now is ‘What can IT do to exploit business opportunities and enhance the portfolio of products and services?’
These days, the absence of good information systems would prevent an organization from developing significant competitive advantage.
The Development of Business Analysis
In a drive to reduce costs, and sometimes in recognition of a lack of IT expertise, many organizations have purchased IT services rather than employ IT staff.
The issues relating to contract management are concerned with communication between the business and the outsourced development team.
An outsourcing arrangement often complicates the communication process.
We need to ask ourselves the questions ‘How well do our business and technical groups understand each other?’
In order to make such arrangements work, new roles are required within the organization.
The rise of the business analyst
The delivery of predicted business benefits, promised from the implementation of IT, has proved to be extremely difficult, with the outsourcing of IT services serving to add complication to already complex situations.
Organizations want help in finding solutions to business issues and opportunities.
It has become apparent that this requires a new set of skills to support business managers in achieving this. These factors have led directly to the development of a new role – the business analyst – where advice and internal consultancy are provided in order to deliver business benefits.
The Scope of Business Analysis Work
A major issue for business analysts is the definition of the business analyst role.
The range of analysis activities
One way in which we can consider the business analyst role is to examine the possible range of analysis activities.
Strategic analysis and definition
Strategic analysis and definition are typically the work of senior management, often supported by strategy consultants. Some, albeit a minority, business analysts may be required to undertake strategic analysis and identify business transformation actions, but most will probably have a role to play in supporting this activity.
IT systems analysis
This is concerned with analysing and specifying the IT system requirements in sufficient detail in order to provide a basis for the evaluation of software packages or the development of a bespoke IT system. Typically, systems analysis work involves the use of techniques such as data modelling and process or function modelling.
If the two analysis disciplined described above define the limits of analysis work, then the gap in the middle is straddled by business analysis.
Business analysts will usually be required to investigate a business system where improvements are required, but the range and focus of those improvements can vary considerably.
It may be that analysts are asked to resolve an identified and very localized issue. They would need to recommend actions that would overcome a problem or achieve business benefits.
Another possibility is that the business analyst is asked to focus specifically on enhancing or replacing an existing IT system in line with business requirements. In this case the analyst would deliver a requirements document defining what the business requires the IT system to provide.
Managing business benefits
Analysing business situations and identifying areas for business improvements is only one part of the process. The analyst may also be required to develop a business case in order to justify the required level of investment and consider any risks. One of the key elements of the business case will be the identification and, where relevant, the quantification of the business benefits.
Supporting business change
At a later stage, the business analyst may be required to support the implementation of the changes. This support may involve advising the business users as they adopt new processes and procedures or assisting, or even directing, the user acceptance testing activity.
Business analysts need to consider three aspects when analysing a business system.
• The processes: are they well defined and communicated? Is there good IT support, or are several ‘workarounds’ in existence? Does the process require documents to be passed around the organization unnecessarily?
• The people: do they have the required skills for the job? How motivated are they? Do they understand the business objectives that they need to support?
• The organizational context: is there a supportive management approach? Are jobs and responsibilities well defined? Is there effective cross-functional working?
It is vital that the business analyst is aware of the broader aspects relating to business situations, such as the culture of their organization and its impact on the people and the working practices. The adoption of a holistic approach will to help ensure that these aspects are included in the analysis of the situation.
Business analysis places an emphasis on improving the operation of the entire business system.
The Role and Responsibilities of a Business Analyst
Although there are different role definitions, depending on the organization, there does seem to be an area of common ground where most business analysts work. The responsibilities seem to be:
• To investigate business systems, taking a holistic view of the situation
• To identify actions required to improve the operation of a business system
• To document the business requirements for the IT system.
Beyond this core definition, there are the aspects of business analysis that apply where business analysts are in a more senior role or choose to specialize.
• Strategy implementation
• Business process redesign
• Business case production
• Specification of IT requirements