Career Scoop: IT Business Analyst

Career Scoop file, on what it's like to work as an IT Business AnalystIn a nutshell, what do you do?

I work with clients to identify business requirements – what the business and users need – and then translate these into an IT system solution.

Why did you decide to become an IT Business Analyst?

I never intentionally decided to become an IT Business Analyst. At university I completed a double degree in Design and IT, so had an interest in design and an understanding of computers and software engineering. As an IT Business Analyst, I get to use both skills in my work.

What path did you take into it?

After I finished my studies, I joined the Australian Public Service as an IT graduate. In my first year I had a rotation as an IT Business Analyst as part of a large IT project. When I finished my time as a graduate, I continued in the same role.

I now work as an end-to-end, or integration designer for different IT projects – which means I work with clients to understand the project goals and outcomes and then work out all of the necessary system changes for each project. I design at a high level across different types of computer systems before other designers work on producing detailed specifications.

What, in your opinion, is the best bit of being an IT Business Analyst?

The best part is talking to clients and gathering an understanding of what they need (i.e. their business requirements) and then developing that into a system design that then gets built and deployed.

It’s interesting to see how a system design develops over time and it evolves and becomes refined through the different phases of a project (i.e. high level design, detailed design, build and test). Then knowing that actual people are using the systems you’ve helped to develop feels like an accomplishment.

Every job has its downsides. What do you think are the worst bits?

One of the most difficult aspects is trying to manage expectations. Sometimes what clients think they want doesn’t translate well into a system design or they have expectations that are unrealistic and can’t be met. Also trying to help people work out what their needs or requirements are, versus what they want and the picture they already have in their head is challenging.

The role of an IT Business Analyst is take business requirements and to translate them into a system solution. In the design phases we try to re-use existing systems and apply specific design principles in order to deliver systems that are efficient and achievable, the consequence of that is that we sometimes can’t (or choose not to) deliver pieces of functionality that people have asked for.

There is a lot of relationship management and negotiation involved with both clients as well as technical design teams and build teams (programmers).

Is it what you expected when you first started out – and what’s different?

I didn’t have any expectations in the beginning, purely for the fact I wasn’t really aware of what an IT business analyst was at first. What I’ve learnt though is that the key part of the job is to help work out what people need instead of what they want.

A lot of people think it’s about designing a system that gets built and does “something”, but really it’s about understanding the core requirements, the business/people processes a system interacts with, and the users that will work with the system before developing a system that is useful, practical and meets the right outcomes.

Also what is expected often depends on the stage of a particular project I’m working in. If I am working on a high level design, I design a system solution across a variety of systems and I need to understand how those systems interact with each other. When working at a detailed design level, I am focused on a single system or process and making sure that it’s right at a much finer detail before handing it over for someone to build. You need to be adaptable in what you can do.

What do the public least understand – or mistake – about what you do?

I think people and organisations often lump business analysts into one collective group, when in fact there are different types of Business Analysts – and an IT Business Analyst or IT Systems Analyst is a specialist skill.

When I try to explain to others what I do, people make the assumption that I design websites or software programs, when in fact I’m often designing for back-end or behind-the-scene systems that the public or users do not necessarily see or interact with.

I think clients have a different idea of what we do as well, and it’s a common expectation that any system change is achievable and that some changes are “simple” and don’t take a lot of time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I often have to investigate why certain requirements or system changes have been requested to work out if it’s worthwhile including in the final system design.

There is a lot of push-back on requirements as often we only have a limited window of time and limited resources to deliver on a project, so we need to make sure we’re delivering changes that will have the greatest impact and benefit to the project overall.

What kind of people tend to do well?

People with good analytical skills, people who can understand complex scenarios, people who know how to ask the right questions. Being able to articulate, clarify and confirm requirements with clients and technical areas. Knowledge in IT systems and principles is a significant advantage but not essential.

Seeing the big picture and considering how users interact with systems are sometimes forgotten values in IT BAs. People that can communicate clearly and can act as translators between business speak and IT speak and visa versa will do well.

Personality-wise, you need to be able to speak up and ask questions and challenge clients to get the best outcomes.

Finally, any advice you’d offer to people looking to get into this line of work?

Get as much experience as you can. Even if it’s building a website for a friend or family member, anything that shows you’ve worked with a “client” and produced a “product” will help you develop your communication and negotiation skills.

As an IT Business Analyst you’re just one person that’s part of a much larger process. So showing that you understand the process is really important. Once you get into a job you can develop your skills set, but to get the most out of it you need to understand what’s happening around you and where your role fits in the grand scheme of things.

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