Business Analysis – The What, The How And The Why – A South African Perspective

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Saratoga’s Mohamed Bray is a business analyst who wears many hats. From consulting with other analysts and project managers to contributing to the establishment of the profession in South Africa, Bray is a seasoned veteran of his trade. But what exactly does business analysis involve in a practical sense? World Wide Creative’s CEO Fred Roed caught up with Mohamed to get back to basics and tackle some of this sector’s most central issues. 

mohamed_brayMohamed Bray, Senior Manager, Saratoga, South Africa,

Mohamed will be presenting the following session “Think Like an Analyst, Act Like a Consultant” at our Business Analysis Conference Europe 2016, 19-21 September, London


Mo, why, for the love of all things good and innocent, does your industry struggle to come up with a decent definition for ‘business analysis’?

Business analysis is a young profession. By young, I mean like 20 years old. Compared to more mainstream careers such as banking, law, accounting and engineering, it is still in its roaring twenties, defining itself and being rebellious. With the tech industry being in a state of revolutionary (not evolutionary) change, settling down is a bit hard. But, big strides have been made in shaping the outer framework for this career. It is now for the current community to shape the details of what this role and career can bring not only to the business world, but to the tech industry as a whole.

Mo, in your view, what is the best definition of ‘business analysis’?

Right now, if you ask ten HR managers or even business analyst managers this same question, you will get ten different answers! My take is as follows: A business analyst understands the end game of what that business is wanting to achieve, using technology as its biggest enabler. He/she therefore plays a role in championing business values through technology as the medium to realise those values and outcomes as quickly as possible.

Why has Business analysis suddenly become such a hot topic of discussion over the past few years?

Back in the day, technology was expensive, cumbersome, and only tech companies and universities were able to afford them. Only once technology achieved the price point where businesses could afford it and use it as a proper enabler, did the need for business analysts come about. This was due to the fact that a huge divide existed between the language of business and that of the tech team. Business talks the language of time and money. Tech teams talk about leading and bleeding edge technologies. Something had to be done to pair these two areas up.

Enter the role of the business analyst. Now, the business analyst was not an entirely new role. Systems analysts will argue this point to death. Programmers and software engineers have been playing a dual role for a while – talking to business people and developing tech solutions. But, as business needs got more complex and the more solutions needed to improve, a more focused role emerged. This role also became a lot more objective, encompassing far more than a one-sided view from the perspective of “techies.” A balanced business and tech view needs to emerge and meet halfway and this is what the focused, standalone business analyst does today.

What makes a good BA professional?

A business analyst needs a few critical inherent behavioral traits and some hard skills in order to be a rock star. The best BA’s; those who rise to the top and are equivalent to being political diplomats, are able to do the following very well:

  1. Possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and stakeholder relations.
  2. Challenge bureaucratic predisposition and rigidity with clear analytical thinking and fact based reference.
  3. Be verbally fluent and concise in providing insights and solutions.
  4. Be a tough and effective negotiator.
  5. Ensure meticulous attention to detail when dealing with both the business and technical teams.
  6. The ability to write well and be concise. Enough said.
  7. Be flexible and adapt to the situation that is best for the overall business outcome, no matter what preconceived idea you walked into the room with.

Why do development projects fail?

If I had the answer to this question, I would be writing this email from my yacht. Actually, I would not be writing any emails. My PA’s assistant would be writing it. But since you asked, my take on project failure has nothing to do with technology and everything to do with how businesses think about their problems and the immature approach that assumes technology can solve all business problems. As amazing as the tech landscape is today, there is still one common issue – humans, and the associated irrationality that comes with us. People tend to get excited by the “cool” aspects of tech and lose the plot when it comes to supplying what the business actually needs. Sometimes businesses fail to express the core business problem/opportunity at hand in an effective and concise way, and get involved in the technological space far too soon. Immature business requirements emerge and solutions get implemented but at best, they solve only about 50% of the real business challenge.

What are the major trends you’re seeing emerge from the BA industry?

I am particularly excited about software as a service and how development projects have been shaken to the core in terms of how they get done. The tools available today to rapidly deploy prototypes that are so close to the actual need makes being a business analyst so exciting. One is able to sit down with your business stakeholder and show a working prototype and make changes on the fly, effectively giving your development project teams a working or simulated specification as opposed to a bland document with words trying to explain what the requirements should be. Development teams are becoming more and more business savvy and realising that it is not all about the technology, but about how the business realise its core objectives using tech as the fastest and most efficient enabler of that need. Business analysts are no longer just “translators” between the business and tech teams, but facilitators and strategic advisors on how to effectively bring the best out of these teams.

You’re involved with the “Inter-View” report with Joe Newbert. Tell us what it’s about and why we should care. Inter-View ( is effectively trying to build a community to answer the first question in this post – why is there no decent definition of business analysis. It a platform for creating a virtual round table and gathering crowd sourced information on what it currently is and what it should look like in the future. Inter-View provides a vital ‘state of the nation’ portrait of the business analysis population and practices in Africa, establishing a critical benchmark in terms of its impact on project delivery and the growth of the profession year on year. You can have a look at what it’s all about here.

Mohamed Bray is the engagements & practice manager at Saratoga – a Cape Town based technology enablement consulting firm. Over and above the business of consulting, Mohamed leads a team of analysts and project managers and continuously works towards improving the maturity of organisational delivery practices within his consultancy and the industry at large.Mohamed is also a member of the University of Witwatersrand’s Information Systems Advisory Board as well as a consultant to the University of Cape Town’s 2nd year IS Department. From an IIBA involvement, Mohamed has served on the South African National Board as Treasurer and Director, later becoming Chairman of the Western Cape Committee, in order to promote and enhance the business analysis profession in South Africa. Mohamed has consulted for the last 14 years with a key focus on the financial services, retail and government (revenue services and tax) sectors.

Article originally featured in the Heavy Chef Magazine: Development Edition.

Copyright: Mohamed Bray, Senior Manager, Saratoga, South Africa


  1. Every one should decide what to do and how to do it and what will be desired outcomes before starting any work.

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