Evolution of Business Analysis – The Next Step Forward?

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by David Beckham, Senior Business Analyst, Aviva, david.beckham@aviva.com

I recently attended the European Business Analysis Conference in London where a lot of the debate centred around the future of the Business Analyst role and how it needs to evolve over the next few years. I think it’s imperative that the profession identifies the forces of change that it faces and takes the relevant actions to manage them successfully. So, in the finest traditions of business analysis everywhere, let’s look at the business problems we face:

The Agile Conundrum: Let’s face it, the move towards Agile has been the most significant change we have been presented with as a profession for a considerable time, not least because of several Agile ‘myths’ (And I use the abbreviated commas in the full knowledge that I may be about to upset any Agile fundamentalists out there) that have been incorporated into the Agile methodology. These in my opinion are:

Agile doesn’t need roles – I would agree more with this statement if it was “Agile doesn’t need role TITLES” which I think is more accurate. I think Agile needs certain skills sets in order to work and those skills include facilitation, negotiation, requirements thinking, an ability to understand and evolve the right business problem and to translate it and get it agreed between several disparate groups. These are typically (but not exclusively) bundled up in a BA.

Agile doesn’t need documentation – really? I think in most legacy heavy organisations some form of documentation will always be required, as a minimum a defined functional specification should result. A BA is well placed to produce persistent documentation with a business slant. In addition to this, a BA is perfectly placed to use the relevant software for collating, controlling and disseminating agile user stories etc. In fact, some of the agile software tools available are very similar to requirements gathering tools that have been around for years and provide a wide range of methods for collation, manipulation and management of requirements, effectively making a BA a requirements orchestrator rather than a requirements gatherer.

The other important thing to remember is that some of the best people to embed an agile approach within an organisation are BAs, because they are most familiar with the way the place works and in most cases, the most flexible in their approach. But I also believe that we as BAs must take our future in our own hands and actively get involved in shaping the role of the Agile BA within each of our organisations, otherwise we will be done unto……

So putting aside the above questions about new methods what else could be acting as an evolutionary imperative on Business Analysts? For me, the next big change is the emergence of Big Data and how companies are beginning to exploit it. Traditionally the largest interaction a BA has had with data has been data modelling but things have moved on very quickly in the last few years. Companies are beginning to see data as an asset and being able to understand the nuances of data and how to represent it in a way that drives business benefit may well become a highly desired skill set. Again, it’s all about asking questions. Not only about a companies data requirements but also about the behaviours that are driving the data i.e. what makes a customer think/behave in such a way that generates a certain outcome. Data can show the effects of customer behaviour but it takes a bit of interrogation to determine the cause of said behaviour. And all the while we’re generating more and more and more data…….

In a similar vein to the above, I believe there will be an explosion in the way companies exploit social media and this is an area where a forward-thinking BA and/or company will benefit from considering what this means for their organisation. Will we see #projectrequirements trending on a corporate twitter feed sometime in the not-so-distant future?

In these times of budget restrictions and cost-cutting I also (perhaps optimistically) foresee that big companies will realise that they need to start focussing on business architecture rather than system architecture. It is a fact of life that what a company does tends to remain more stable than the tools with which they do it. Formula One for instance is all about winning races but if you compare racing cars today with those of twenty years ago it is obvious that the technology has changed dramatically in that time. We can see that in the move toward the cloud rather than monolithic corporate databases. What an organisation does, who it’s customers are and how it interacts with them should dictate the IT architecture in place rather than the other way round and the smart companies will focus on this rather than the transient technology. This opens up a whole vista of opportunity for corporate BAs if they can earn a place at the table as opposed to the large consulting companies that usually get the gig.

Finally a new evolutionary driver is the increasing use of remote technology within large organisations. It’s a whole new ball game facilitating a workshop through a web-cam or an OCS link. It becomes harder to read body language, stakeholder power networks and audience engagement levels and you have to work differently to gain clarity and consensus; new ways of working need to be learnt such as virtual white-boards or screen-sharing and using tools online in the workshop to create the appropriate level of clarity and understanding. Mind maps, process models, user stories, use case models are all example of ‘lighter’ requirements tools that can work well in the hands of a skilled remote operator.

So those are some of the evolutionary drivers that may be coming our way, or may already walk amongst us as I see it. But the most important survival adaptation is that it is imperative to advertise the benefits a Business Analyst can bring; if your customers don’t know what you can do you won’t get a chance to evolve.


Beckham_DavidDavid Beckham has worked at Aviva for twenty-nine years and has been a Business Analyst in different guises since the mid-90’s. He was a founder member of the Business Analysis Practice when it was formed within Aviva IT and has had two terms as the Practice Lead. He has worked on numerous large change programmes and has been heavily involved in building the capability of Business Analysis within his organisation over the last few years. He has presented at the European BA Conference for the last two years and has had several articles on Business Analysis topics published through various media. Despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease four years ago David continues to relish his role as a Business Analyst and is a passionate advocate of the profession and the benefits it gives to organisations everywhere.

David spoke at this year’s European Business Analysis Conference

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