The evolution of the Business Analyst

We cut through the buzzwords to rediscover the Business Analyst of today - and tomorrow.

30 years ago, business analysis was a relatively new concept; today it’s a fundamental part of organisations’ success. The role has of course evolved over its lifespan, but has it become bogged down by buzzwords?

If you’re looking to get more insights about your business, then hiring a Business Analyst seems like the perfect answer. But when it comes to pulling together the job spec, it’s often not as straightforward as it appears. Is it a Technical Business Analyst you need? Or would a Digital Business Analyst be a better fit? And what’s the difference anyway? Here, we cut through the terminology to rediscover the Business Analyst of today - and tomorrow.

History of the Business Analyst

During the 80s and 90s, information technology boomed. For the first time on a mass scale, businesses began to improve their business processes using technology. As more people used technology in their work, they began pushing for software updates and rewrites to really reap the benefits of tech. But business people lacked the technical awareness to express their needs. And software developers lacked the business knowledge to understand those needs. Neither could speak the other’s language. This opened up space for a new role - someone with a foot in both worlds, who could bridge that gap and communicate needs clearly. So, the Business Analyst was born.

A huge shift in the way Business Analysts operated was down to the introduction of Agile methodologies. Created out of software developers’ frustration with traditional project management methods, Agile aims to take an iterative approach to product development. Instead of outlining the goal and the steps needed to get there at the outset, Agile works in short sprints. The flexibility and real-time feedback this affords provided an entirely new way of working for Business Analysts.

That brings us to today. We live in an increasingly digital world. Agile is now a part of every department - not just IT. To bring the BA role into the present, we’ve drawn out the aspects of the business world that didn’t exist at the job’s inception. So, offshoots of the BA role like Technical Business Analyst, Digital Business Analyst, and IT Business Analyst now exist. But have we lost sight of the role’s true objectives?

What’s in a name?

More than you may initially think. Names are used for identification and differentiation. What does advertising for a Technical Business Analyst, rather than simply a Business Analyst, suggest about the job to candidates that organisations are aiming to reach? Who, if anyone, do these distinctions benefit?

When you look deeper, these Business Analyst roles are surprisingly alike. Key responsibilities and deliverables emerge time and time again. Establishing business requirements and improving business processes are just two common responsibilities. Employers are looking for strong communicators with problem solving and management skills. IT skills, software knowledge and data analysis are high on employers’ list of desirable qualities too. Perceived differences between the roles can then be attributed to working environment and product. By examining these reason behind these differing role titles, we can draw two key insights. One: the intent to express a difference in environment worked in and product worked on. Two: a perceived difference in skillset by the person hiring for this role.

Right now, the business world is occupied by a mixture of digital immigrants and digital natives. Those doing the hiring are more often than not digital immigrants. As technology wasn’t always a part of their lives, and because the knowledge isn’t inherent to them, offshoots of the BA role tend to overemphasise the technological and digital aspect. The role’s title comes from the digital awareness and technical knowledge of the person hiring. What’s suggested about the role by who creates it and who it aims to attract are likely to be very different. So, are we just tying ourselves in knots over terminology?

Future of the Business Analyst

When Business Analysts first came about, they were tasked with translating between two worlds (business and software for example). Thanks to technology we’ve bridged that gap. These worlds are now one. As our working life becomes increasingly digital and technology-focused, we’re only going to see the ‘differences’ between BA roles narrow.

Because we’re hiring tomorrow’s leaders today, we need to use tomorrow’s terminology. In a digital world, why ask for a Digital Business Analyst? It’s inherent to the role. It’s inherent to the employee. It’s inherent to the working world. The future of this world is Generation Z. And that future is already here. Generation Z will make up 40% of today’s workforce by 2020 and that number is only going to rise.

Rather than creating offshoots of the BA role – that more often confuse than clarify – consider this as the next chapter in the evolution of the Business Analyst. These digital natives have grown up with technology. Tech and digital are innate to them, so picking up programmes or exploring new software is fairly intuitive. More importantly, whether you choose to put ‘Digital’ in front of their BA role or not, they’re still bringing a lifetime’s worth of tech and digital knowledge with them. When technology is inherent to your workforce - no distinction is needed.

At Grayce, we recruit for a Business Analysis specialism. We return to the heart of the Business Analyst role and marry this with the needs of today’s business climate. We provide our Business Analysts with the accredited qualifications and training needed to be critical thinkers who can adapt their ways of working to different environments.

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