Growing Business Analysts

Are Business Analysts growing on trees?What seeds do you as an organization have to plant to grow strong business analysts? Or, if you are an aspiring business analyst, what soil is best suited for feeding you the nutrients you need to grow? When should you be planted and how should you be nurtured to become the best business analyst you can be? These and other questions have been keeping me awake nights lately, so I thought I should just share them with you to see where the answers might lead us. That way, maybe I could get a decent night’s sleep again.

The Blast from the Past

I have been in the field of training business and systems analysts since the ‘80s (1980’s that is, thank you very much). Back in the early days, the people I was training:

  1. all had an information technology (excuse my slip — in those days, it was called “information systems”) background;
  2. were interested in working with business users to figure out what the business community wants and needs;
  3. had (or aspired to) the title of systems analyst; and
  4. were predominantly male (80 — 90% of the students in my training courses).

As a result, the prevailing knowledge back then was that IT was the road to acquiring the highly coveted “system analyst” title (and pay!). Interestingly enough, the tools and techniques we were teaching these folks were targeted toward helping them get the business community to understand business processes and data without forcing subject matter experts to become “computer literate”.  The system analyst was responsible for translating the “business needs” into system requirements so that the programmers could design and develop the automation necessary to support the business need.

A Snapshot in Time

During the ‘90’s, business was booming (ah, yes, remember when?) and the world was gaga with the burgeoning Internet economy.  Nearly everyone was busy trying to figure out how to launch the next IPO, grab their millions, and retire to the moon (or wherever else you might desire to spend the remainder of your years). I don’t know, I must have slept through a few of those years. At any rate, here I am in the 21st Century without an IPO or anything to my name. I do, however, have several IP addresses to show for my fascination with that Internet technology. I wonder what they are worth nowadays.

Anyway, while all this excitement was going on, the Information Technology landscape was changing faster than a California freeway during an earthquake. New technologies were introduced, new languages sprouted up, and new paradigms evolved. The demand for people to translate business-speak into techno-babble was increasing dramatically and the number of folks in the information technology branch who were busy doing their thing (i.e., trying to develop the world’s best website that they could turn into the next big IPO, etc. as explained above) dropped. As a result, the demand for analysts was skyrocketing while the old supply line (IT) was shriveling up.

Enter the Business Analyst Role

It was against this backdrop that the business analyst role evolved. There were many in our industry who felt that the role of translating business needs into business requirements really did not require a technical background. Actually, a “techno-awareness” was all that was really needed to set people’s feet upon the path of developing a business-centric information technology solution. Business knowledge was deemed more critical to the role. As a result, we started to train more and more people who came from the business community and understood what real people (as opposed to us IT folk) needed the technology to do for them.

What can I say? The results were a smashing success. More and more people followed in the footsteps of those early pioneers and traded their job titles of underwriter, claims adjustor, accountant, etc. for the much more lucrative title of “Business Analyst” (quite often, by the way, at a lower pay grade since that appeared to be the price one had to pay for the privilege of not having done that IPO thing).

The Training Impact

The changes became evident in our classrooms throughout the ‘90’s. OK, there was that little hiccup we called Y2K which caused a downturn in everything related to information technology that had nothing to do with the date problem. However, as soon as we survived that “calamity”, the makeup of our students started to change significantly. In the 21st century, we started getting more and more people who didn’t know what “PIC 9(6) COMP-3” meant. They were, however, very knowledgeable about why it was necessary to assess the risk of a policy before issuing one and knew what the computer could do to make the process more efficient.

This was the birth of the first true “business analysts” in the current sense of the word. No more system savvy, business acumen was sought. As a result, the people attending our training courses today:

  1. are about a 80/20 split between business and information technology backgrounds;
  2. are interested in working with the IT group to figure out how technology can deliver what the business community wants and needs;
  3. had a diversity of job titles prior to making the switch; and
  4. are predominantly female (80 — 90% of the students in my training courses).

As a side note, I still have not figured out why 4) happened, but having survived the war between the sexes in the ’60’s I refuse to even venture a guess.