Industry insights

Keeping your head above data: A guide to the shifting role of the business analyst

Keeping your head above data: A guide to the shifting role of the business analyst

Over the last four decades, the role of the business analyst has undergone its fair share of incremental changes. As we begin to see major shifts happen in both business and technology as a result of data being used 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 (BAs) can be traced back to the early 1980s, where technology was finding its footing in the business world. Back then, BAs were more commonly referred to as system analysts, a role which was usually tacked on to a software engineer’s existing duties. As the name suggests, the role was responsible predominantly for analysing software, ensuring each of a system’s components were working optimally.

As businesses were beginning to see the value of IT processes in driving value, it became apparent that just because the technology was functional, didn’t mean that it was meeting unique business needs. Communication between the engineers creating the technology, and business leaders was strained at best, making it difficult for businesses to convey their needs to software engineers. As a result, the ‘official’ role of the business analyst was born. It aimed at bridging the communication gap by understanding the business problem and applying that understanding to the technology solution.

Today, BAs are still very much 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 in both business elements and IT systems, this role has never been as important as it is today.

How will the surge of data reshape the BA role?

Data is constantly being generated everywhere and every day. “Everything is a data point” adds Sue van Eeden, a BBD Executive; “Starting out, the role was very much process driven, where the BA would go and observe how people worked. Nowadays, users aren’t close to you anymore. They’re all using an app, and their behaviour on the app is getting stored and analysed as data.”

However, we’re merely scratching the surface of the digital universe – a landscape ripe for data analysis and data science (with its related fields of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence) to gain valuable, actionable insights for businesses.

As such, many companies are investing more time into analysing big data – extremely large data sets that reveal patterns, trends and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions. Business behemoths such as Amazon, Facebook and Google are using their customer data to shape engaging experiences, predict wants and needs in intuitive ways, and automate processes, all to accelerate profit and gain a competitive advantage, oftentimes creating seismic changes capable of disrupting whole industries.

And all of this potential is seemingly lying in wait, readily available for companies to make use of. But where do they get all these newfound insights from?

That’s right. The business analyst.

However, a traditional business analyst might not be proficient in the technical side of working with data, they might not always know what to look for, or how these numbers can be converted into tangible business value.

“The BA role is a lot more generalised when it comes to data analysis. The more technically intense side of this would still be shouldered by a data scientist” explains Lucas Dreyer, a Technical Lead at BBD; “However, where data scientists are very much domain focussed, and specialise in finding patterns and linking data to business processes, a BA is much more adept at using this information to close the loop and solve business problems”.

How to evolve into the modern-day business analyst

With an evolving nature, staying at the forefront of your career is imperative in the BA role. Getting complacent will quickly land you in hot waters, as technology and client requirements grow well beyond your grasp. BBD believes in constantly upskilling our teams to stay at the forefront of industry changes and requirements. Through a gamified Continuous Learning Programme (CLP) which encourages career development and growth, our people are equipped with the autonomy to shape their career with access to various courses and learning opportunities.

As the breadth and depth of data increase, BAs should be comfortable working with both business and technical teams as a link between analytical ability and practical application. “In a data-driven age, a BA should seek to understand the implementation of data technologies such as Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, so that they’re able to work closely with the technical teams” explains Dreyer; “This means understanding the pitfalls of using such tech. One such example would be identifying potential bias within AI models and training sets”.

In addition to this, Dreyer says that “Using data adds an entirely different dimension in terms of privacy and legislation. BAs would need to have a more eye-level view of this. As such, they would need to be aware and up to date with the latest legislative requirements in different industries”.

The growth in data will bring forth a need for BAs who are able to clearly understand and showcase how businesses can transform data into meaningful information that their respective business areas can use to make informed decisions and drive value. In the form of job specs, this may take the shape of, for instance:

  • Creating interactive reports which identify processes that should be automated or altered
  • Identifying trends to enhance business processes or client offerings/products, based on a set of defined data points
  • Remaining cognizant of data trends and incorporating these into business solutions
  • Understanding the application of data-driven technologies and their pitfalls
  • Ensuring the solution is compliant and within the bounds of the industry’s legislative, privacy and other requirements pertaining to the use of data

The role of the business analyst has undergone its fair share of incremental changes and by the looks of it, is nowhere near finished evolving. Both existing BAs and new starters should be aware of how data is revolutionising the role. What better way is there to do this than to work with a company that embraces this major shift and prides itself on ensuring its people stay on top of what’s current in the industry?

What’s next? We’re ready!