Business analysts are now strategists
With business analysts in demand in the digital economy, there is much interest in the training and upskilling required to create the ideal candidate with the right skills to fill this position.
A broad spectrum of knowledge, training, aptitude and experiential learning is required to prepare BAs for the new world of work.
Three high-level academics at the Department of Informatics at the University of Pretoria have researched the changing role of the business analyst (BA), finding that if BAs do not reskill, they may face significant challenges. They found that over time, the BA's function has evolved from that of an analyst to a strategist.
Associate professor Dr Hanlie Smuts, senior lecturerDr Lizette Weilbach and associate professor Dr Marié Hattingh provide a summary of their findings:
Considerable ambiguity surrounds the role of a business analyst (BA), with no universally accepted standard definition, rendering it one of the least-defined positions in the IT realm.
BAs now serve as 'navigators’, focusing on identifying problems and providing relevant and effective solutions, rather than adopting the role of 'sellers' who impose specific solutions, based on personal preferences, upon stakeholders.
The BA's primary duty is to act as a bridge between project stakeholders and development teams, with the objective of identifying, documenting and validating requirements. This necessitates effective communication with information system designers to ensure mutual understanding and agreement, leading to BAs being occasionally referred to as software requirements analysts.
The nature of the BA role varies with seniority and specialisation. Junior BAs often commence their careers by working on smaller projects under the guidance of senior BAs. With a few years of experience, they may progress to larger and more complex projects and assume leadership roles, mentoring junior analysts.
Around 10 years of experience would permit BAs to transition to a strategic level, contributing to the planning, evaluation and management of enterprise change portfolios, rather than being confined to individual project assignments.
Business analysis thus assumes a crucial role in helping organisations articulate their requirements, substantiate the necessity for change, and develop comprehensive solutions that deliver value.
BAs bear the responsibility of identifying business challenges, probing their root causes and ensuring their resolution through effective solutions, all while adapting to an evolving work environment marked by the increasing integration of digital technologies.
Scholarly research underscores the numerous advantages and opportunities that come with the adoption of technology, including automation, optimisation through robotic processes, the provision of unique products and services rooted in predictive machine learning models, and the transformation of conventional business models into digitally-driven enterprises.
The far-reaching impact of technology adoption is discernible across diverse industries, encompassing sectors like healthcare, mining, agriculture and banking, presenting higher education institutions (HEIs) with the formidable task of preparing graduates to excel in this swiftly evolving professional landscape.
The profile of a BA graduate primed for the demands of the industry encompasses four essential capability areas. These include a specialised technical skillset aligned with the student's chosen degree programme, the ability to initiate and execute innovative ideas cultivated through continuous learning, proficiency in utilising various digital media and interactivity to craft customer-centric products and services, and the capacity to navigate the complexities of life and work environments within the globally competitive information age, transcending mere cognitive abilities and domain-specific knowledge.
Based on these capability areas, an analysis of required BA capabilities was derived from the BABOK and literature published on BA services, knowledge areas (KA), tasks, competencies and skills. These capabilities include:
Core technical capabilities (in line with the BABOK KAs): Plan and monitor the organisation’s business analysis function; evaluate BA function’s maturity; analyse and understand the organisation’s strategic context; analyse and understand the company’s problems and goals; perform strategy analysis; develop strategy; devise strategy; identify and analyse project stakeholders; elicit requirements from stakeholders; produce diagrammatic models and narrative definitions of requirements; review and analyse elicited requirements; validate requirements to maximise value; perform feasibility analysis; define and present a business case; manage changes to defined requirements; perform assessment of implemented solution; and recommend possible changes to maximise solution value.
Innovation and learning capabilities (to assist organisations with the identification and solving of problems): Creative thinking; decision-making; learning; problem solving; systems thinking; conceptual thinking; visual thinking and modelling; facilitation; communication; mediation and interaction; collaboration and teamwork; change management; business acumen; industry knowledge; organisational knowledge; solution knowledge; and methodology knowledge.
Technology, innovation and media capabilities (to support and enhance their work processes): ICT literacy; social media/platform literacy; digital technology application; data mining and analysis; information security; CASE tool literacy; and desktop application literacy.
Career and life capabilities (to keep up with and find their way in the multifaceted, competitive and connected world they operate in): Leadership; negotiation; decision-making; time management; responsibility; organisation; lifelong learning; conflict resolution; and the ability to work under pressure.
A university final-year capstone project, firmly rooted in experiential learning, appears to be a fitting approach for preparing BA graduates who are industry-ready. Experiential learning is built upon the foundations of the experiential learning theory, which posits that knowledge is formed by engaging with and transforming experiences.
This process involves grasping experience through concrete experience − direct interaction with the phenomenon − and abstract conceptualisations, drawing conclusions after reflecting on the experience.
These experiences are then transformed through reflective observation, involving a review and reflection on the experience, and active experimentation, where the knowledge gained is applied to real-world situations.
In this particular module at the University of Pretoria, final-year students are tasked with the analysis and development of a functional software solution for an actual industry client.
By recognising and acknowledging the intricate connections and interdependencies between HEIs, industry organisations and the needs of BA graduates, HEIs can ensure their curricula are tailored to equip BAs with the skills and knowledge required to excel and lead in the ever-evolving professional landscape.