Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Bridges Over Troubled Waters

Full-blown business analysts are, like homo erectus, an end point in an evolutionary process. But it’s an evolution that is very much a work in progress

Acting as a bridge, spanning the gap between the business and IT, good business analysts are increasingly sought after by enterprises wishing to extract more value from their current and future information systems. But finding a business analyst is not easy: there are only 60 paid-up members of the Australian Business Analysis Association, and the Australian chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis claims a paid-up list of 120 members. If finding business analysts is no mean feat, harnessing them effectively poses an equal challenge. The potential benefits, however, make it a challenge worth tackling for many enterprises.

To reap more value the survey recommended IT integrate business planning and IT planning, measure IT operating performance and also track IT assets and issues

A survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this year found 84 percent of organizations felt IT could deliver more value to the organization. The survey, sponsored by BMC Software, found that the adoption of strategic planning and operational processes across the IT function and the business seem to increase significantly the tendency of senior business executives to recognize the positive contribution of IT to the business as a whole. To reap more value the survey recommended IT integrate business planning and IT planning, measure IT operating performance and also track IT assets and issues. Enter the business analyst.

Mark Carmichael is CIO of PKF Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors, and is embarking on his business analyst evolution journey. PKF's heritage of Lotus Notes-based applications meant that in the past, people working in IT were all accountants, according to Carmichael. "There was never a need for business analysts because the accountants knew the business."

Since Carmichael joined the firm, and kicked off an IT overhaul, the accountants have retreated to the business. "We needed to put back the middle ground," explains Carmichael, who has been using two Lotus Notes developers as his business analysts. "They can talk directly to the business and talk to them in layman's terms, scope the project and go out and develop products," he says.

Re-establishing that middle ground between IT and the business will put IT in a better light, Carmichael says. "The business will have someone they can talk to, but who sits in IT and reports to me. In the past they were hidden in the business."

David Wilson, associate professor and associate dean of teaching and learning at the faculty of IT at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), says transitioning IT staff into the business analyst role makes sense. He sees the business analyst role as essentially the systems analyst role viewed through a business lens. "In the old days the systems analyst created the specifications for technical analysts." Now, he says, business analysts are less likely to be involved in actually changing the underlying information systems but are involved in using those systems to generate business-appropriate reports.

Business analysts are in such favour because organizations have reviewed their approach to IT, Wilson says. "IT is largely providing infrastructure while applications are more owned by the business." He also suggests that reporting relationships between the business, the business analyst and IT are becoming more contentious. Although business analysts logically sit in the business they ought to have a "dotted line" of reporting back to the CIO to ensure "they are leveraging off the IT systems", a structure that could alleviate some tension.

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