Business Analysts face new challenges in a rapidly evolving world of software solutions. Packaged software, such as ERP and CRM systems, and Software as a Service (SaaS) are becoming the “go to” answer for business problems as they can almost always be implemented more rapidly and more cost effectively than custom solutions. In addition, there are many tools available for both personal computers and via the cloud that business units of many organizations are buying and implementing as a means to bypass IT.
The trend is clear; organizations are doing less and less custom software development. Instead of building custom software from scratch, organizations are finding tools and customizing them. The Consumerization of IT and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device (e.g., iPad) are major trends that Corporate IT departments may want to stop, but simply will not be able to. Many of the worst offenders are senior level mangers who don’t care what the CIO or the IT Department think. They want quick results for their business unit and are wiling to implement a tool, pay for it with OPEX, and completely bypass IT.
These trends have a significant impact on the role of the business analyst and will require business analysts to adapt the requirement process. Some may take the stance that the BA should be agnostic, and not take part in design or in selection of implementation tool. However, I believe that it is the BA’s job to help the business find the best solution to solve a business problem. Tools are working software and ready to be used. The best solution to resolve a business problem may be to select and implement a tool or a SaaS solution instead of developing custom software. In a world where the available selection of tools is virtually endless and can be configured to meet any business need, where does business analysis fit?
Areas where I see the business analyst assisting business leaders in this new environment include:
Understanding the business problem – A critical value provided by business analysts is to help the business leaders understand exactly what problem the business is trying to solve. Having a clear understanding of the business problem helps the business stay focused on what is needed and not on some sexy feature within a tool. The new challenge BAs face is that business users will often come to them having done their own research and believing they know what tool they want before they even initiate a project to implement it. Business Analysts will need to work with them on stepping back and defining the business problem and avoiding the tendency to being overly influenced by vendor hype.
Optimizing the business process – New tools will provide new flexibility, and will be likely to make the software solution better support the business process rather than finding workaround the software to support the business process. Business analysts will need to have a through understanding of the business process to appropriately configure or customize the solution to meet the business needs.
Scoping the solution – Business analysts will help the business determine what features and functions are needed. The business analyst will also help the business define high requirements specifications that will be used to help the business determine the best solution to meet its needs.
Identifying and Evaluating Solutions – Business analysts will work with business leaders to find acceptable solutions. It is their responsibility to evaluate and work with the business to evaluate potential solutions based on a structured evaluation process. Business analysts can help both business and IT teams make informed decisions about which vendors and software applications to invest in.
Enterprise Integration Requirements – One of the problems of purchasing standalone tools is understanding to how to efficiently integrate them with enterprise applications. Nobody is better equipped to address this problem than Business Analysts, as they have a good understanding of the business problem, understand the enterprise applications, and are involved with selection and evaluation of new tools.
Transition Requirements – Transition requirements are key for SaaS and tool based solutions, as much of the infrastructure that exists to support enterprise applications will not be applicable when a tool or SaaS based solution is chosen. Questions that should be answered when defining transition requirements for the new solution include:
- How much data will be converted or migrated to the new solution?
- How will support be provided?
- Who will provide training for the system?
- Who will pay for they system?
- What impact, if any, does the solution have on business continuity?
- Who will be responsible for security administration?
- Who will be responsible for integration with our existing systems?
The trend toward COTS has been going on a long time; look how many ERP systems have been installed over the last 15- years. The number of software tools has exploded. SaaS and consumerization of IT have added fuel to the fire. The direction is well established; we will continue to see the use of more and more tools and SaaS solutions, and there will continue to be less and less custom software.
Personally, I see some great opportunities for business analysts with these trends if we adjust and not resist them. Resisting them will make our role quickly obsolete. We need to position ourselves to help the business solve problems using whatever means are the most rapid, cost-effective, and results in the best overall solution. We need to be involved in evaluation and selection of software and before a decision has been made on what the solution is going to be. We need to help the business quickly and efficiently transition to the new solution. The wide availability of solutions that are available provides us with great flexibility and increases the likelihood of being able to solve complex business problems given limited budget and time constraints. This is a wonderful opportunity for business analysts, and one that’s likely to also have an impact of elevating our profession as a whole.