Keeping Your Head Above the Data: A Guide to the Evolving Role of the Business Analyst


Over the past four decades, the role of the business analyst has undergone its fair share of gradual changes. As we begin to see major shifts in both business and technology due to the use of data to derive business value, the role is set to change yet again.

Roles and responsibilities of the traditional business analyst

The emergence of business analysts (BA) dates back to the early 1980s, when technology made its way into the business world. Back in the day, BAs were more commonly referred to as systems analysts, a role that was typically added to the existing duties of a software engineer. As the name suggests, the role was primarily responsible for analyzing software, ensuring that every component of a system was performing optimally.

As businesses began to see the value of IT processes in creating value, it became clear that just because the technology was functional didn’t mean it was meeting unique business needs. Communication between engineers creating the technology and business leaders was strained at best, making it difficult for companies to communicate their needs to software engineers. As a result, the “official” role of the business analyst was born. It aimed to bridge the communication gap by understanding the business problem and applying that understanding to the technological solution.

Today, BAs are still very responsible for working with businesses to help them leverage the power of technology to improve their processes and systems. Acting as a mediator, moderator and translator with domain knowledge of both business elements and IT systems, this role has never been more important than it is today.

How will the influx of data reshape BA’s role?

Data is constantly being generated everywhere and every day. “Everything is a data point,” adds Sue van Eeden, BBD executive. “Initially, the role was very process-oriented, where the BA would observe how people worked. Nowadays, users are no longer close to you. They all use an app, and their behavior on the app is stored and analyzed as data. “

However, we are only scratching the surface of the digital universe – a ripe landscape for analytics and data science (with its related fields of machine learning and artificial intelligence) to gain valuable insights and exploitable for businesses.

As such, many companies are investing more time in analyzing big data – extremely large data sets that reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially when it comes to human behavior and interactions. Business giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google use their customer data to shape engaging experiences, intuitively predict wants and needs, and automate processes, all to accelerate profits and gain competitive advantage, often creating seismic changes capable of disturbing entire sectors.

And all of this potential is apparently on hold, readily available to businesses. But where do they get all this new information from?

That’s right. The business analyst.

However, a traditional business analyst may not have a good grasp of the technical side of working with data, they may not always know what to look for or how those numbers can be converted into tangible business value.

“BA’s role is much more generalized when it comes to data analysis. The more technically intense side of that would still be taken on by a data scientist, ”says Lucas Dreyer, technical manager at BBD. “However, where data scientists are very domain-oriented and specialize in finding patterns and linking data to business processes, a BA is much better able to use that information to close the loop and solve problems. commercial. “

How to evolve into the modern day business analyst

With an evolving nature, staying on top of your career is imperative in the role of BA. Being complacent will quickly get you in the hot water, as technology and customer demands become far beyond your reach. BBD believes in constantly improving the skills of its staff to stay on top of changes and industry demands. Through a gamified Continuous Learning Program (CLP) that encourages career development and growth, staff are empowered to shape their careers with access to a variety of courses and learning opportunities.

As the breadth and depth of data increases, BAs need to be comfortable working with business and technical teams as the link between analytical capability and practical application. “In the data age, a BA must seek to understand the implementation of data technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, so that they can work closely with technical teams,” explains Dreyer; “It means understanding the pitfalls of using such technology. One such example would be identifying potential biases in AI models and training packages. “

On top of that, Dreyer says, “The use of data adds a whole different dimension in terms of privacy and legislation. BAs should have a more eye-level view on this. As such, they should be aware and up to date with the latest legislative requirements in different industries. “

The growth of data will create a need for BAs who can understand and clearly demonstrate how companies can turn data into meaningful information that their respective business areas can use to make informed decisions and drive value. In the form of specifications, this can take the form, for example:

  • Create interactive reports that identify processes that need to be automated or changed.
  • Identify trends to improve business processes or customer offerings / products, based on a defined set of data points.
  • Stay aware of data trends and integrate them into business solutions.
  • Understand the application of data-driven technologies and their pitfalls.
  • Ensure the solution is compliant and within legislative, privacy, and other industry requirements for data use.

The role of the business analyst has undergone its fair share of gradual changes and, at first glance, it is far from having finished evolving. Existing BAs and new entrants alike need to be aware of how data is revolutionizing the role. What better way to achieve this than by working with a company that embraces this major change and prides itself on making sure its employees stay on top of what’s going on in the industry?

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