The Digital Business Analyst

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At the IRM Business Analysis Conference Europe in September 2018, I conducted an interactive session about the business analyst (BA) in the digital enterprise. The main point of exploration was the change in mindset, knowledge, skills etc. that is needed to make and keep the BA relevant. The digital enterprise is one in which information technology is strategic for the business model, and often part of the enterprise’s goods and services, and the customer experience. 

Mark Smalley, Global Ambassador, ASL BiSL Foundation; [email protected]
Mark spoke at the 10th Annual Business Analysis Conference Europe 2018, which took place 24-26 September in London, on the subject; “The Digital BA“.
View the BA 2019 conference website here
This article was previously published here.

The role of IT in the digital enterprise differs from traditional organizations in as much as there is a shift from centralized and shared IT service centers, to dedicated and IT within the various lines of business. This can be seen as a shift from business-IT alignment (implying separate entities) to business-IT convergence. In many cases, it is difficult to determine the distinction between business and IT, and the terms “business” and “IT” may even not be helpful. With about a hundred participants split up into discussion groups, more than fifty observations were captured, and these are summarized below.

Business domain knowledge was one of the most frequently mentioned topics. This has, of course, always been a key competence for BA’s. However, the feeling was that the digital setting requires further investment in understanding of the context. Significantly, it is also important to understand how the world is changing in response to (and sometimes to influence) market forces.

Technical knowledge was also mentioned. The BA can no longer get away with sticking to the functionality – technology is such an integral part of digital business that you have to know what you’re talking about.

Strategy and innovation implied that the BA – when perceived as such! – can contribute to strategic discussions. Somebody mentioned the shift from business requirements to business change.

Empathy and Design Thinking were mentioned several times. The need to step into the shoes of the customer and to experience things from their point of view. This also extended into how the BA’s engage with business people – speak in normal business language and keep the technically accurate but incomprehensible documents and diagrams for internal use.

Analytics was recognized as closely connected to things digital. While not needing the depth of knowledge that a data scientist has, the digital BA has a basic understanding, at least of the significance of data analytics.

Agile, DevOps, Lean and Lean Startup characterized the changes to the BA’s way of working. There were several mentions of the BA needing to be open-minded to these approaches.

Courage and responsibility were – surprisingly – the only personal skills of this nature that came up in conversation. Courage to say no when needed. Responsibility in the sense of taking ownership of, for instance GDPR.

Mediation and collaboration were the final frequently mentioned topics. The participants clearly saw a role for the BA as an intermediary between business and IT (despite the aforementioned convergence). Collaboration also included working with business architects, delivering the business environment/landscape that the architects have envisioned.

In side discussions, a shift from role to capability was referred to. From the business analyst as a job title to business analysis as a set of capabilities that are executed by a multitude of cross-functional, T-shaped professionals. This is not exclusive to the BA world – I’ve had the same discussions about testing and project management.

Finally, for the sake of comparison, I previously conducted a similar session as part of the IIBA Global Corporate Program. This program provides live, interactive webinar forums on topics that are driven by their corporate leaders and communities. The summary of my session in November 2017: “the digital movement embraces business analysis capability that involves design thinkingemotional intelligencebehavior-consciousness (ethics), business-savviness, and collaboration; all of which set the stage for BA professionals being thought of as trusted advisors who help pin-point and develop digital business opportunities and foster productive business-IT relationships.”

Your comments on these findings and the topic of the digital business analyst in general are most warmly welcomed!

Mark Smalley, aka The IT Paradigmologist, thinks, writes and speaks about IT ‘paradigms’ such as DevOps. He is IT Management Consultant at Smalley.IT and Delivery Partner for GamingWorks’ The Phoenix Project DevOps business simulation. He is Global Ambassador at DevOps Agile Skills Association (DASA) and ASL BiSL Foundation. Contributor to bodies of knowledge such as ASL, BiSL, BRM, COBIT, DevOps, IT4IT, ITIL, and VeriSM. Mark has lectured at various universities and has spoken at hundreds of events in more than twenty countries.

Copyright Mark Smalley, Global Ambassador, ASL BiSL Foundation

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