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

Pooling Talent

While the ABC is well evolved in terms of its BA use, project delivery specialist Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) is perhaps even further advanced in terms of its use of business analysts to support information technology. Group system manager of information Peter Nevin acknowledges the relatively swift rise of the BA in corporate Australia. "Roll the clock back five or 10 years and it would be difficult to find BAs focused on end-to-end business processed in IT," he says.

Today SKM has a pool of 10 business analysts serving the information needs of 6500 people in 65 offices around the world and an IT group 150 strong. However, since Nevin believes it benefits both the business and IT to capitalize on an individual's strengths, the firm has four BAs focused on business and six concentrated on IT.

Nevin says this approach stems from a realization that finding an equally business-savvy and IT-smart BA is unlikely. A business-savvy BA might develop an ideal solution that would be too costly to implement or not mesh with current IT systems, while someone with an IT systems focus would develop an elegant technical solution that might not meet the business needs. To address this issue, SKM has actually split the business analyst role into BA-business and BA-IT. Currently both roles are in IT, however given the cross-divisional responsibilities of the business process managers, ultimately they could report to the GM business processes directly supporting that important function in the company.

Nevin says that by separating the business process from the supporting IT, the business process manager is able to remain agnostic about any proposed solution and select the best solution. The genesis of the structure came about five years ago when IT was called upon to create a collaborative document management system for SKM. "We created a business owner, and scoped that role beyond being a system owner role. That matured into the concept of the business process manager and all big projects now move ahead with a business process manager."

Nevin acknowledges that one of the challenges is to ensure the business process managers keep focus beyond their area, making sure that end-to-end business processes are always considered. As the model matures, there is a natural tendency for the business process managers to work together. Now, rather than having to step in and conduct the team as he expected in order to orchestrate a whole-of-business view, Nevin has found that the BA group forms into a "dynamic and self-forming team" able to form a virtual "super BPM" when required. "And that's really taken me quite by surprise," he adds.

Surprises, however, are a feature of most evolutionary processes — just ask a giraffe.

Sidebar: Skills Set

Good business analysts are:

  • good listeners
  • good conversationalists
  • non-threatening
  • able to communicate up to senior executive level.

Good business analysts:

  • empathize with the business
  • ask sensible questions
  • avoid making promises
  • can communicate bad news sensitively
  • have a good general grounding in IT
  • document conversations and check for accuracy
  • run a meeting without imposing their views.

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