Business Analysts Raise Their Profile

Salaries are rising for those who can communicate between IT and business groups.

 

By Sonia Lelii | April 2008

Dice News Staff

 


Recruiter Christa Baker has seen an uptick in demand for business analysts in the last several months, from clients including IBM, Wachovia and small and medium-sized companies. Meanwhile, Robert Half Technology reports business systems analysts are expected to make between $64,250 and $91,750 in 2008, up 5.6 percent from last year.

In other words, “business analysts are hot right now,” says Baker, area manager for Manpower Professional in Southborough, Mass.

Traditionally, the IT worker¿s role within an organization has been more vertical: Their sphere of influence was focused on areas such as application development, networking, databases or storage. However, a business analyst functions more on a horizontal level, often described as a translator, liaison or traffic cop between the business and IT departments. For the most part, a business analyst should have some experience in applications or databases. That way, ¿they can speak the language of application development and also the language of business,¿ says John Estes, vice president at Robert Half Technology.

What makes the role necessary? Explains Baker: “Some companies don’t want to invest in new technology at the moment. Others have technology that they don’t know how to use. It’s all about aligning that technology to the business goals.”

“They are an extension of the chief information officer,” says Mike Schaffner, director of the IT business group for a Houston-based oil field equipment firm. “The CIO has the same role, but it’s more on a global level. The business analyst is more focused and functions in one area, such as the business analyst for the sales department or a business analyst for the finance department.”

A business analyst’s primary job is to ensure technology and business objectives are in synch, particularly when a manual process is being automated, says Schaffner. The position also may entail involvement in change management. “That is different from automating or leading a process,” he notes. “This is historically an area that IT has not wanted to get involved in. It’s an area that can become political because it’s like calling someone’s dog ugly.”

Bridging The Culture Gap

 

Until now, business executives and the IT department haven’t necessarily communicated well, especially when it comes to collaborating on business process objectives. “Business does not know how to talk to technology,” Baker believes. “And when they do, it does not always go well.”

Because of that, many companies are pushing for professionals who can bridge the chasm between these two worlds. In an April 2008 report, Forrester Research identified several breeds of business analysts, falling into two main categories: business-oriented analysts or IT-oriented business analysts. Business-oriented analysts, who focus on financial or human resources or marketing, primarily work on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of business operations. They’re concerned more about what changes to make rather than how to make them. On the other hand, IT-oriented business analysts are responsible for leveraging technologies to implement changes. They must be able to understand and translate business needs into effective requirements.

In general, a business analyst should be trained in business processes with an overview of application development, says Schaffner, who has five business analysts reporting to him. Furthermore, he sees business analysts as having more of a customer focus. They serve as a conduit between the internal and external customer community and the software development team. The level of technology expertise that a business analyst should command largely depends on the business needs they face.

“It depends on the strategy,” Schaffner explains. “The split could be half functional, half technical. Or it could be 30 percent functional and 70 percent technical. If the need is to have business communicate more with IT, the job is more functional. If it is the other way around, then the job is more technical. It depends on who is trying to talk to whom.”

E-mail Sonia Lelii at sonia.lelii at dice.com

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