Where do we come from and where do we go to?Prior to the advent of the role of business analyst, the most common tasks for defining the business needs for information technology (IT) was assigned to people with a title  “systems analysts” who typically evolved from a programmer (“Developer” in today’s speak).

Business Analysis: Where Did We Come From?

Back in the ‘60’s, life was comparatively simple since the whole computer thing was still very new. The field was “Data Processing” (DP), or more specifically “Electronic Data Processing”, (EDP). The programs were relatively simple since batch processing was all there was due to technological limitations of the day. With the spread in the ‘70’s of terminals where normal people could interact directly with the computer, the field of information technology became considerably more complicated. The programmers of the day not only had to deal with making the technology work but also had to take the idiosyncrasies of human behavior into account.

Throughout the ’80’s and ‘90’s, the personal computer (PC) revolution, client-server technology and the Internet added yet more levels of complexity to the technology side and drastically increased the number and demographics of users. The sheer volume of knowledge that programmers/systems analysts needed to do their job well became overwhelming, both from the technology side and from the human dimension. As a result, the job of developing and delivering working IT solutions became not only a full-time task, but required more and more specialization. The role of business analyst was born.

Business Needs Supersede Technolgoy Needs

On a positive note, organizations started to recognize the importance of people who could determine the business needs for Information Technology Solutions. They realized that business needs superseded technology needs and that the business should be in the driver’s seat.  To achieve that goal, these organizations needed people who could define what the solution had to deliver to satisfy the business need.

Many of the people fitting this description came out of the business community.  They had various titles such as “super user”, “subject matter expert” or “SME”, or simply “the go-to guy/gal”. Of course, there were still systems analysts who were moving more into the business community to rid themselves of the information technology stigma. (Note that the author is one of those stigmatized by the information technology background and in spite of his sordid past has managed quite well in the business analyst role.)

State of the Profession?

Today, Business Analysis is a hot topic in most organizations in corporate America – actually, in the global marketplace. It has evolved to include the identification of business goals, objectives, and problems as a basis for identifying which projects should be undertaken (strategic business analysis). The next steps define the requirements for achieving the goals and solving the business problems for projects even when IT is not a component of the solution (tactical business analysis). Because packaged software is big business, it can also include refining the parameters and settings for installed, packaged software (operational business analysis). In 2003, a group of business analysts formed the International Institute for Business Analysis (IIBA®) to define the discipline and give guidance to practitioners on best practices in the field. It is now a field worth considering as a career choice.

A recent study suggests there are over 400,000 people involved in business analysis and a 2012 search of a major job site revealed 150,000 open business analyst jobs in the United States alone.  On a side note, this is at a time of high unemployment and a sluggish economy.

Why Are We Here?

What factors drive the need for this expertise? The continuing increase in the complexity of the technology, the practice of outsourcing IT development, and expanding globalization are all contributors. As complexity leads to specialization, the need for people who can translate business needs into technology requirements becomes apparent. Outsourcing the development of an IT solution requires clear, concise, and legally defensible requirements that specify the solution in verifiable terms. The result of outsourcing decreases the need to have highly trained technology experts on staff while increasing the need for those who can execute the business analysis function regardless of their title. Finally, expanding globalization increases the rate of change for businesses. International competition for limited resources forces organizations to find cheaper, faster, and better ways of doing what they do to expand their customer base. The business analysis function exists primarily to achieve those goals.

Business Analysis: Where Are We Heading?

Given the cloudiness of our crystal ball, it is difficult to predict exactly where this field will be in 5, 10, or 25 years. Will the job title “Business Analyst” still exist? The posts on some blogs indicate that our industry is divided on the issue; nonetheless, there is consensus that the functions of business analysis are essential. The processes of building a new solution (IT or otherwise) and implementing standard applications are very much construction projects. Like any construction project, they involve a planning component, an analysis or study of the existing landscape, and a design or proposal of what to buy or build before construction can seriously begin. Whether someone called a business analyst, a product manager, a product owner, an enterprise architect, or any other title does this, the techniques are fundamentally the same. The timing of the activities and level of detail of the outcome will change.