Defining the Analysts Role – Business or Systems.doc
Defining Analysts Role –
Business or Systems?
Founded in 1959 and headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Systemation is a results-driven
training and consulting company that maximizes the project-related performance of
individuals and organizations. Known for instilling highly practical, immediately usable
processes and techniques, Systemation has proven to be an innovative agent of business
transformation for many government entities and Fortune 1000 companies, including
Verizon, Barclays Bank, JPM Chase, Mattel, State of Oregon, Travelers, Bridgestone,
Amgen and Whirlpool. More information on Systemation and its business analysis and
project management assessments, workshops, certificate programs and consulting
services can be found at www.systemation.com.
The role of understanding and communicating information about business functions, and the
software/hardware that supports them, has become essential to competing effectively and
efficiently in the market today. Strategic business and systems analysis is a major differentiator
for profitable companies. This role, identified as Business Analyst, Business Systems Analyst, or
a host of other similar titles, has emerged as “critical” to success in meeting stakeholder and
stockholder expectations. In fact, successful project management requires robust business
In 1994, the Standish Group, an IT Research organization, published the first ever CHAOS
Report documenting the findings of an extensive investigation into the outcome of IT projects in
small, medium and large organizations. Each year since then, they have performed the same
research and continue to publish their results as summarized in the table below.
Project Outcome 1994 2004
Challenged 53% 53%
Failed/Cancelled 31% 18%
Finished Successfully 16% 29%
The increase in successful projects can be directly attributed to the rise of the Project Manager as
a key role within an organization and more specifically the IT department. Project Management
Institute, and a plethora of training, tools and techniques have made the profession what it is
today. Project Managers are pushed harder than ever to deliver in terms of budget, time and
resource allocation. Although more projects now succeed than fail, the fact that the same
percentage of projects (53%) are still challenged almost 12 years after the original study, could
lead one to believe that we are “trying to do many of the same old things, while expecting
different results.” The question may then be asked, “If project management is improving the way
projects are handled, why are there still so many challenges?”
As lessons learned, the CHAOS report also lists the top 10 reasons why projects fail or are
challenged. Year after year, the following make the top of the list of project pitfalls.
• Lack of user involvement
• Missing or Incomplete Requirements
• Changing or Unmanaged Requirements
These components have more to do with understanding the business and the user’s needs than
they do with the other project challenges like lack of sponsorship, budget constraints, and
unrealistic timeframes. To overcome these obstacles, an organization would simply have to get
the users more involved and define better requirements, right? Well, it’s a lot more complex than
Defining Business Systems
To best understand business analysis, we have to understand or define the systems that are
being analyzed. Systems, which were independent or stand-alone in the past, now offer very
sophisticated relationships with various data sources and interconnectivity. In addition, systems
have become amazingly complex, as technologies have provided opportunity for bigger, better
and faster. Regardless of these advancements, systems can still be defined at the most basic of
levels from two key perspectives.
• Business systems as processes – Business systems can be defined as the group of
related functional tasks, manual or automated, which are designed to achieve a specific
and successful business outcome.
• Business systems as technology – Business systems can also be defined as the collection
of hardware, software and networking components which allow the transmission of
information, again designed to achieve a specific and successful business outcome.
The key thing to remember in business systems today, is that no matter how fantastic the
technologies have become, people still need to interact with them. More importantly, to be
successful, these technologies have to meet a definable business need. Finally, if a bad business
process is automated with technology, the result will just be a faster, automated bad business
process. Therefore, it is critical for analysts to review the business processes and the
technologies used or being considered to define the business needs, document requirements,
and provide the best recommendations for system improvements.
Unfortunately, this critical analysis work is often overlooked for what seems like the faster
approach of designing a technology solution as soon as a problem is identified. Many, many
organizations have used this approach only to realize later that money, time and resources were
allocated to projects that upon completion don’t fulfill the majority of the business needs. To fix
this, a new project is initiated within a short period of time to replace, upgrade or fix the poorly
defined, poorly implemented system, lacking the features and functionality critical to the business
and users. The same “solve the problem with a technical solution” approach is used and the
replacement system doesn’t do much better than the last. More money and time are wasted re-
engineering the redesign, often with no better outcome the second, third or fourth attempt.
Eventually people start to loose faith that the systems will ever provide the functionality they
need. In addition, their skills and efficiency in performing their jobs are constantly challenged in
the name of improvement. After feeling the pain a time or two (sometimes more), it’s only natural
to search for a better approach. So what might that be? In one word, Analysis!
Analysis - A Critical Role in All Projects
There have been several industry-recognized models built to offer structured methods for
developing system solutions. Two of the most well known include the System Development Life
Cycle (SDLC) which is vendor neutral and is a foundation for many other proprietary
methodologies, and the Rational Unified Process (RUP), an iterative software development
process (now owned by IBM) based on Uniform Modeling Language (UML) components. The role
of analysis in both methods is highly regarded for the purpose of investigating the business and
technical environment to discover and document requirements. Throughout this process, various
elicitation techniques and modeling tools are used to acquire and organize data into useful
While project management is focusing on the planning part of making a project work, the analyst
is focusing on getting the users involved, and assembling a quality requirements document. If
done properly, an analysis focus could mean that organizations begin to overcome many of their
project challenges, and shift that 53% figure into greater numbers for success.
The Job of All Analysts
Recognizing that analysts are one of the hottest job titles within business and systems
environments today, it would be helpful to know what to look for in an analyst, or what skills to
acquire to be a good candidate. Often, individuals that become analysts start out as Subject
Matter Experts SMEs within a particular business unit or are versed in a wide range of technical
solutions. Whatever the case, any analysts worth their salt must possess the following
• Strong written and verbal communicator
• Ability to interact with others and adapt to/interact with various levels of business users
• Identify key stakeholders and establish proper communication channels to gather
information relevant to the study, maintain user involvement and working relationship
• Identify and maintain scope of study based on defined business objectives, avoid scope
• Interview, use questioning techniques, good listening skills and note taking ability
• Facilitate meetings with stakeholders to gather information, document process, collect and/
or validate requirements, gain user buy-in
• Review various information components to discover what critical as-is system functionality
to keep, fix, delete or add for the future to-be system
• Use various modeling tools or methodologies to collect and organize information
• Avoid analysis paralysis by determining appropriate level of detail for study and when to
move on to next phase of process
• Provide relevant projections/estimates to project manager for study portion of project
• Write unambiguous, testable, traceable, and feasible statements of requirements
• Identify, organize, document, validate and manage requirements documentation
• Write or present proposals for approval to carry out study or move onto
design/development with requirements documentation
• Support quality assurance and user acceptance testing processes by identifying expected
outcomes, writing test scripts and being involved in the testing process
Most organizations have realized that it’s impossible to gather the appropriate information without
an analyst performing these critical job functions. Regardless of the job title assigned,
organizations see the value in having analysts whose focus is on the business community, its
users, customers and processes. They also realize that it’s critical to have an analyst focused on
the technical aspects and sophisticated components that support the business. This leads to a
more specific definition between a Business Analyst and Business Systems Analyst, roles that
work hand-and-hand to make the business needs understood so that they can be properly
matched with the best technical solutions.
The job of a Business Analyst focuses on analyzing the functional business processes. Other
titles often given this position might include Process Improvement Specialist, Process Engineer,
and Process Analyst. When taking this approach, the person performing as a Business Analyst
will often have some experience, if not an extensive amount of domain knowledge within a
particular business unit or department. This is helpful so that the analyst can best understand the
underlying details and specifics, the workflows, handoffs, inputs and outputs, measurements,
statistics and other characteristics of the business process that an outsider would take a long time
to fully appreciate. Often a person who has achieved a certain level within a particular job gains
an expertise, and they can then be trained to perform the analysis work necessary to improve
efficiencies, create cost saving and achieve other objectives for that area.
It is not always possible or practical for an analyst to always carry specific business domain
knowledge. There are instances when an analyst making too many assumptions about system
functionality can override the benefits of expertise. An analyst may become too “attached” to
systems they previously helped design, implement or support and therefore won’t make the most
objective decisions when re-engineering. A good analyst should be able to adapt to just about
any environment and apply a broad range of skills to properly and thoroughly discover key
information, organize, document and manage requirements. Specifically a business analyst often
performs any or all of the following:
• Recognize business goals and objectives, as well as background of
organization/department under study, market, products, competition, customer, financials,
stakeholders, what has changed, etc.
• Focus on business processes and procedures
• Identify cost savings opportunities, increase efficiencies, decrease errors/issues
• Identify and interact with business users at various levels to gather and validate information
and determine requirements
• Identify impact on other areas both internally as well as outside the organization
• Recognize exposure or potential risks associated with process changes
• Understand available and applicable technologies (while not necessarily being technical)
• Act as a liaison between the business unit customer/users and the technology department
• Document and management requirements from a “What is needed” perspective
Business Systems Analysts
In contrast a Business Systems Analyst carries some technical component along with the title.
Basically this means that the job emphasis includes knowledge of various software and hardware
components that represent a major portion of all business systems today. Not too terribly long
ago a mainframe operator or programmer would sit down with a user, ask what they need, write
the code before requirements were ever defined, present the resulting screen or report to the
user and modify the code based on user requests. While this may have worked somewhat well at
a time when JAD (Joint Application Development) or RAD (Rapid Application Development) were
the buzz words of the day, technical systems have now become much more sophisticated and
complex. The “code before requirements” approach is still often taken, only to realize that more
iterations than necessary are completed before the user is somewhat satisfied. In addition, more
and more organizations are considering “buy versus build” solutions to leverage software
vendor’s expertise, limit their resource involvement, and refocus on core business support. This
makes requirements more important than ever.
A Business Systems Analyst should have technical knowledge while being versatile enough to
recognize various options without jumping into coding or technical solution selection until
requirements have been defined. Other job titles might include Data Analyst, Technology Analyst,
or the name of a particular technology followed by Analyst for instance, Call Center Analyst,
Database Analyst, Programmer Analyst. Each title has a slightly different connotation, but all fall
within the technical umbrella. A Business Systems Analyst job description often includes any or
all of the following:
• Interact with business users and communicate using appropriate level of system
• Fully understand and possibly even specialize in specific system architecture, software or
hardware system components
• Identify user’s data access, security, tracking and auditing requirements
• Identify disk storage space requirements, expansion capacities, data transmission speeds,
throughput statistics, network baselines, transactions processing times, access times, etc.
• Identify access methods using various user interfaces including screens, forms, reports,
voice prompts, queries, notifications, web, etc.
• Write system based requirements from a “what is needed” perspective
• Translate business requirements into technical specifications which define “how” the
requirements will be fulfilled using hardware, software, reporting, interface or other
• Assemble data into meaningful information and disseminate to others in layman’s terms
• Determine feasibility of technical requests
• Help troubleshoot, problem solve or brainstorm possible solutions
Going Above and Beyond
Although the brief “job descriptions” list a lot of important work, the job of an analyst may also
straddle a number of other functions within the organization, possibly because they possess such
expertise and insight into the business as its systems as a whole. Often these people are called
upon to also assist if not perform the following tasks on a regular basis: Testing, training, writing
documentation like policies and procedures, interface and report design, system development,
installation, programming, implementation, support and maintenance, system administration,
change management, and project management.
What is important is that analysis work should be performed consistently and thoroughly for each
project where success is the desired outcome, whether grouped with other job duties or limited to
a specific job title. Just about every project big and small could benefit from some element of
analysis to get users involved and identify, document and manage requirements.
Getting to Success
As organizations are striving to stay competitive, comply with regulations, enhance customer
service, stretch their limited budgets, increase productivity, leverage technology and generally do
more with less, the last thing on the agenda would be significant challenges or outright project
failure. Project management can only account for one portion of increasing that success rate.
Proper analysis will be critical if we are ever to get that challenge value of 53% to budget. To see
major improvements in corporate and IT projects the following items are critical to address:
• Analysis is a separate function from project management and stands on its own as a
valued job description, such as Business Analyst or Systems Analyst.
• A business environment/culture is created which encourages user’s to work with analysts
to offer information, identify business and system needs and validate written requirements.
• Analysts are provided with appropriate training, and exposure to industry recognized tools
and techniques to assist in successful job performance.
• Adequate time, resources and budget are allocated to the analysis process to achieve high
quality requirements documentation.
• Requirements are defined before the design process or a solution is selected.
• Analysts gain industry-recognized certification from the International Institute of Business
Analysis (IIBA) to measure competence and application of knowledge.
Implementing these key components might mean the difference between failure, challenge and
success on your organization’s next project. One thing is for sure…it makes perfect business
sense to increase organizational competency in business and/or systems analysis!