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The World’s Theory – The History of Business Analysis & Evolution of the Business Analyst

As we all know, the role of the Business Analyst has evolved significantly over the last two decades. As more companies have realized their need for strong business requirements to support their IT efforts, Business Analysts have achieved a permanent role in most organizations. But how did we get here and what sparked the birth of Business Analysis as a craft? This can be explained by what I call “The World’s Theory”.

From times past, more specifically, since the birth of the first programmable computer in the 1940’s until the early 1980’s, computer systems were used primarily by the government, universities and the companies that made computers.

Basically, they were the only entities that could afford to use technology. Not just on the cost front, but also the cost of time and effort. There were many reasons why technology was so expensive in these ways at the time, namely,

  • Data storage was very expensive and took up an enormous amount of space,
  • Data was difficult to access since the data was stored in one-directional flat files,
  • It was difficult to write programs to access the data,
  • There was limited functionality built around mainframe systems, and
  • The only user interface was achieved through the “green screen”.

However, in the 1980’s – early 1990’s, things started to change. Data storage became less expensive, relational databases were introduced, new object-oriented programs such as Java were invented and the first graphical user interfaces came into being. All of these events led to a boom in information technology and business’ and programmers went wild chasing “the next big thing”. But something was missing. Although information technology had advanced to where mainstream businesses could utilize computer technology to improve their business processes and more quickly react to changing business environments, technology actually started to become more expensive. Why?

The value of technology was apparent, but critical dollars were being spent on software rewrites, updates to meet business needs not previously identified, increase in maintenance costs and resolving software defects. As business users continued to interface directly with software engineers their needs got lost in translation. They simply could not speak “technology-talk” and articulate their needs effectively while programmers could not always interpret what the business users were trying to convey. Boom! The world of the business collided with the world of technology and the craft of today’s Business Analysis was born.

Now, pseudo-Business Analysts had been around for a while, but they were not Business Analysts as we know them today, much like Project Managers of the era were not known as we know them today. Business Analysts were usually called Systems Analysts and the role was typically played by a software engineer in addition to his programming duties. This was not an ideal situation for the previously mentioned reasons but mainly the difficulty in truly understanding the business model of the organization and applying that understanding to the technology solutions.

So in order to support the business model, the role of the Business Analyst had to be developed and has done so over the last twenty years. In order for IT systems to deliver success for the business, three factors need to be present: 1) the business needs must drive the development of technology solutions, 2) the implementation of a technology solution must be accompanied by the necessary business changes, and 3) the requirements for IT systems must be defined with accuracy. The Systems Analyst of the past was preoccupied with #3 but the operation of a business in today’s global economy demands all three be met.

The modern Business Analyst is not only concerned with the requirements, but also the meaning of the requirements.

  • Business Drivers – why do we need to make change?
  • Business Vision – what does the business look like after we make the change?
  • Business Objectives – how do we measure our success?
  • Business Requirements – what elements need to be implemented in order to realize the business vision?
  • Business Rules – what conditions govern the behavior of the implemented solution?

Notice that all of the above deliverables are preceded by the word “Business”. Hence, the word “Business” precedes “Analyst”. The Business Analyst is not just technically savvy but also in tune with the operational business model for the company. This allows the Business Analyst to be a well-rounded individual with skills to speak to business problems and define technology solutions.

And the importance of the Business Analyst has really been recognized in the last decade as businesses more readily seek technology solutions to complicated business problems. But because of the added business focus a Business Analyst provides, businesses have been able to utilize the Business Analyst to solve problems that do not require technology changes such as business process improvement, organization changes and the streamlining of operations. More and more, Business Analysts are becoming involved at an earlier stage of project work where they can not only define the business requirements, but outline the current state and future state of the business as it relates to the business problem and solution. You can also see Business Analysts taking part in the development of business cases with cost/benefit analysis as well as the selection of technologies to support the solution.

In the past, many businesses said, “Can technology help us solve this problem?” But the question no longer comes exclusively from the business perspective but rather from the technology strategists when they say “What can technology do to enhance the product offerings and market opportunities that exist for the company?” Information technology enriches the business offerings by not only supporting core competencies, but giving businesses the ability to focus on those competencies without the distraction of ancillary business operations such as human resources and supply chain. And Business Analysts are at the forefront of this concept since they can speak not only to the technology solution, but how that technology solution should be implemented to meet the market desires. This is how businesses achieve competitive advantage. Not by wasting time and resources on rewrites, maintenance and defects, but putting action in motion to use technology to better reach customers. And the Business Analyst plays a key role in making that vision a reality.

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