Where Have All The Business Analysts Gone?

In recent years it has become more and more apparent that the job description of Business Analyst has become diluted and distorted. Can this be considered the natural evolution of a profession or is it a profession that no longer has a clear job description? Is this a profession that has moved past the point of clear boundaries or are the boundaries still there but blurred based on the need to adapt to a changing world to meet the needs of people rather than the needs of the business? What can we do to win back the respect that the Business Analyst profession deserves? Exactly whose responsibility is it to maintain a professional and respected image of this profession? Should the recruitment process of Business Analysts be an exercise in requirements gathering?

Some 5 years ago, you looked for a business analyst to take an idea or a concept and turn this into a tangible solution based on the needs of the business and the strategic direction of the organization. This was achieved by following a discipline and ensuring complete traceability from the idea or concept stage, to the requirements, through to the testing and business signoff. Nowadays, this is no longer the case with the increasing need to place business analysts into a position where there is only the need to justify decisions based on an organizations need to change, or the promotion to a position that doesn’t tangibly exist. Requirements are now simply gathered and recorded to justify, if not quantify an exercise rather than endeavoring to establish why a change is required, and if required is the change the right one to make at the time. The distinct lack of root cause analysis removes a level of understanding or traceability as to the origins of a decision or an expected outcome. This does not imply that the position is just a means to an end, but rather that the Business Analyst may have moved to the back line to simply gathers requirements. This has resulted in a gap which in turn has placed Solution Architects and Enterprise Architects onto the frontline to deal with the increasing complexity around the way a business and its technology function on a day to day basis.

Career progression in both the public and private sector has resulted in a need to promote people into positions within the organization based on either BAU or project work. Often these positions are impossible to label with specific titles, as they combine multiple tasks and responsibilities to achieve a selection of outcomes. They are more often than not, un-definable positions. However, driven by the position descriptions loosely fitting into a criteria of a business analyst profession with the individual required to meet with people and put information into documents, or, there is some other form of analysis work required, the position is given the title of a business analyst. Over time this has resulted in the job description of a business analysis becoming shallow and vague at best.

Many organizations that do not fully understand the role for which they are recruiting for often provide the recruitment firms (or the Human Resource department) with a brief if not recycled description of the role that they are trying to fill. These shallow and vague descriptions make it extremely difficult for recruitment firms to ascertain the needs of the organization and is often loosely matched with a candidate who may have a broad skill set, but may not be suitable for the role. Recruitment firms that are able to understand the specific requirements of the organization, and in-turn design a solution that will meet the organizations requirements are far and few between. Many Business Analyst have received a call from recruitment firms advising that they have a position that is perfect, only to find out that it completely irrelevant to their current career path. Should the recruitment agent role be redefined as a Business Analyst then? The simple answer is no, the requirements for the profession are already provided in the form of the IIBA BABOK (International Institute of Business Analysts Business Analyst Body of Knowledge). It is however, critical to the organizations to understand how these requirements relate to their organizations and document these requirements in a form that is understandable to both the organization and the recruitment firms, and which specific requirements are considered mandatory to meet the organizations requirements. This is, and will continue to be the responsibility of the organization recruiting for a Business Analyst. Organizations must be continually aware of the time and money used for recruitment and that these are used optimally for an outcome that is in the interest of the organizations strategic direction.

So where have all the business analysts gone? It would be nice to say that natural progression has taken these individuals based on their ability to communicate and operate with both the IT and business sectors of the business and moved these individuals into roles where they are now able to influence the organization at a level where they are no longer hindered by bureaucracy or politics, i.e. consultancy or solutions architects. However, this is not the case, the individuals who possess the core competencies that are required to be able to fulfill the requirements of a business analysts have evolved and adapted and will continue to adapt to organizational changes and influence the organizations at the levels that they currently operate at. Be it in providing mentoring or training, or analyzing requirements for an organization that understands the value of this profession and will not relinquish their grasp on these highly skilled individuals.

Moving forward, it is important to take the profession as business analysis as seriously as possible due to the nature of the role. A person operating in this profession can make or break an organization based on their ability to listen, understand, interpret and present facts in the form of requirements of both internal and external parties. Independent organizations foundered in an attempt to support Business Analysts and provide understanding into the profession such as the IIBA are seeking to achieve a level of respect to fortify the profession, though as the world changes; the profession loses respect due to unqualified and under skilled professionals operating in this space. These organizations will endure and gradually win back the well deserved respect of the profession based on publications such as the BABOK though this will be a gradual and drawn out process and will require ongoing support from training organizations to ensure that any training provided addresses the core competencies required by this profession.

Training organizations around the world have taken an opportunistic approach in the past with the clarity of the Business Analyst profession. A distinct lack of Job Performance Analysis (JPA) has resulted in a variety of training courses aimed at providing the Business Analyst with a multitude of tools and theories on how a Business Analysts should operate contributing to the confusion regarding the profession. Responsibility needs to be taken by a variety of stakeholders to ensure that the profession is regulated and kept in line with core competencies. This responsibility should be spread across the training organizations, Business Analysts seeking the training and organizations such as the IIBA. It is important to share this responsibility with others, such as recruitment firms, human resources, managers and the other Business Analysts in the organization who are currently and will be operating in these roles in the future. With the ongoing publications such as the BABOK we can now fully understand what the profession entails. Even with the ongoing evolution of the Business Analyst position description, we are provided with the information and resources to fully understand how we can operate within these boundaries to restore the respect of the position.

In a world where information is often at our fingertips, online communities which are specifically established to support professionals such as Business Analyst with sample documentation, forums, book reviews etc are, and will continue to provide a haven for professionals. These communities provide the perfect environment for Business Analysts to understand their roles and the roles of others. The possibility of networking via these communities provide vital information for understanding professional strengths and weaknesses which enables us to perform our role adequately if not exceptionally. The profession has and will always aims to provide ongoing improvements to an organizations strategic direction, however, it is often neglected to pass these improvements on to the individual. Self improvement will continue to allow the individual Business Analyst to operate effectively within their roles, meeting the demands of the organization, the profession and the individual whilst continuing to enhance and improve potential career opportunities and maintain the respect of the profession.

Author: Nathan Fulton has spent the best part of a decade working in the Business Analyst profession with a passion for the development of Business Analysts and organizational change management. He has worked across the globe delivering projects for a variety of organizations of varied industries.

Published on Modern Analyst on Tuesday the 24th of February 2009