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Four Ways Business Analysts are 'Going Digital'

Digitization has meant IT business analysts have a much harder and more complex role than they once did; the best are finding new ways to cope

As companies reorganize themselves to take advantage of a digital future, the role of the IT business analyst is changing rapidly.

IT applications teams, who develop software in house for companies, employ business analysts to deal with internal customers and make sure the software is as useful as it can be. But digitization means that business analysts (BAs) are taking on new responsibilities that have come from a greater diversity of business demands, new methods of developing software like Agile, and managers’ increased comfort with technology.

The problem is that, even as BAs are being asked to complete new activities, they must continue to perform most of their traditional responsibilities as well (a common problem for many IT professionals). Caught between these old and new worlds, many BAs struggle to prioritize their time across an expanding scope of activities (see chart 1).

Chart 1: Business analysts are adopting new activities to support the digital enterprise  Source: CEB analysis

Click on chart to expand

Four Ways to Get a Handle on the New BA Role

From talking with applications teams in CEB’s networks, there are four ways that leading BAs are incorporating new activities into their workflows.

  1. Identifying business needs: In a fast-paced, digital environment, technologies and priorities change rapidly, and it can be difficult for business partners to articulate their most important needs. This means that, during the “business needs discovery” process, BAs should seek to understand all ways that internal customers will use the application.

    BAs in the applications team at an information provider in CEB’s networks spend some of the time they once allotted to requirements gathering shadowing business partners and their teams. In doing so, BAs can identify inefficiencies in business processes, ones that business leaders may not have been able to articulate themselves. Understanding how business partners use the technology on a day-to-day basis can also help BAs get a better understanding of which solutions are the best fit.

  2. Relationship management and communication: With more technology options on the table than ever, the IT function needs its BAs to not only understand business partner needs, but also to evangelize and communicate the value of new technologies and the tradeoffs between various technology options.

    BAs at another organization in CEB’s networks show business partners the “art of the possible” by creating a brochure to communicate all the innovation-related activity in progress within the IT function. Each issue focuses on a new technology and how it is enabling business objectives. Another section highlights a specific business area and outlines technologies that could enhance business objectives in that area. Creating a publication like this is a great way to foster discussion about new technology during or in between regular engagements with business partners.

  3. Technology management: As the variety of technologies available to business partners continues to grow, IT often relies on BAs to engage more with the technical aspects of a new piece of software. BAs increasingly define test cases and prototype solutions in an effort to help the business understand the practical considerations of proposed solutions and to guide technology implementation.

    To facilitate this, BAs at a large biotech firm created an “experience simulation service,” in which they lead a prototyping initiative to evaluate the potential business impact and risks of new technologies. The IT team invests just enough in a particular technology to simulate the experience, then puts the simulation in the hands of likely users to illuminate its practical implications on business processes and user workflows.

    This process helps BAs accomplish traditional activities like designing usability standards and ensuing high-quality user experience. But it also allows the business and IT to co-design innovative digital solutions, and make informed decisions about which technologies to pursue.

  4. Support for business-led delivery: Increasingly, line managers and other business partners are ready to take the reins in developing a software solution by purchasing one from outside the company and implementing it themselves. Supporting business-led IT is an entirely new category of activities for most BAs, and can take on a variety of forms, based on business need and the business partner’s digital ambition.

    One way BAs can do this is by equipping business partners with guidance on how to filter through vendor sales pitches and understand the true cost of implementing a new solution. BAs at a healthcare firm helped business analysts do this by giving them tools to become “buyer’s agents.” As buyer’s agents, BAs collaborate with business stakeholders on technology decisions by building their risk awareness and guiding them toward opportunities, without taking over responsibility for their investments.

    The IT team created a structured framework to identify business leaders’ risk and value preferences and position trade-offs in the context of a project. Using a framework like this gives BAs a way to structure these conversations with business partners, and provides business partners with the tools they need to make sound technology decisions on their own.


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