Q&A: The Changing Role of the Technical Business Analyst

With so many positions being outsourced, one that remains in-house is the business analyst. We explain how the role of the analyst is changing.

Business analysts are a critical component to an organization's success, and new tools have made it easier to go beyond simply translating business requirements in IT specs. To learn more about the growing popularity of the technical business analyst, we turned to Ilan Sehayek, the CTO of Jitterbit. Ilan has held various engineering, marketing, and executive roles in the enterprise-related IT industry in the past 18 years. Prior to leading Jitterbit's engineering team, he served as director of market development for Amazon.com in creating a platform for retailers to run their direct-to-consumer operations.

Enterprise Strategies: What IT resources should a company not outsource and try to cut costs on?

Ilan Sehayek: From our experience, it is the core infrastructure or generic infrastructure IT crowd that is being more and more outsourced -- people in network management and infrastructure management. Those that are not being outsourced are the domain experts, or people in IT who actually know the “ins and outs” of the business. They understand what data is involved to support the business. That skill-set is so proprietary to a company that they simple cannot trust someone for the outside and expect them to understand that info. This is the growing role being referred to as the technical business analyst.

What role does the technical business analyst play? What are the responsibilities of this position?

Traditionally the role of the business analyst has been to translate business requirements into something the IT developer needs to do. Now with visual tools that eliminate the need for programming, business analysts can do the integration work themselves. Whether it’s a business analyst involved in an ERP system, or the business analyst managing a sales operation system as the operations person or in finance, we see their role expanding in different parts of an organization. So there isn’t a stereotypical single “role” of a business analyst, it more about their unique skill sets.

I take it you advocate for this as a separate position. Who has been performing these duties within an organization? Why has this not been satisfactory?

Historically, moving data from one system to another was a complex process that called for code to be written, so the job of integration fell to a programmer within the company's IT organization. If you can simplify the process of integration and eliminate the need for code, a technical business analyst should be more than qualified to handle the integration.

What value do business analysts add to the organization?

The benefit of moving the task from the IT developer to the business analyst is twofold. First, it is a resource/cost issue. In today’s market, the IT organizations are often slimmed down and backlogged. Moving the project into the business group that owns the need, reduces the short term costs in the IT department from a manpower perspective. In the long run, it eliminates the creation and maintenance of custom code by allowing the company to standard their integrations with one flexible tool.

Should technical business analysts reside in IT or the business unit?

I’ve seen the business analyst position exist in in both IT and business units, but I feel it works best when the position resides in the business unit. First, the business unit sets the priority. If the need is great, they can quickly green light the project and allocate resources without approval from elsewhere within the company. Second, the business analyst residing in the business unit understands why the data needs to be integrated as well as how the business will use this data. This allows the business unit to make accurate and actionable decisions.

However, I’ve also seen effective business analysts that were part of the IT organization. In this case usually, it is someone who started an IT career in their 20s as a programmer and then by their mid 30s they’re tired of developing and want move more into the business side. Typically they’ve been with the company for several years and have a real understanding of what the needs of the various departments and business units are.

What external and internal factors have led to the need for the technical business analyst?

The main catalyst for organizations is the need to reduce cost, so naturally given the current business outlook, companies are looking for people who are more efficient and have the autonomy to complete work on their own. The fewer projects that require big IT teams, typically the more expedient they are delivered and the less expensive the project.

Externally, I’ve seen the seasoned IT developer start to look for more fulfilling roles in the corporation. Many in IT started as developers or database administrators (or a similar technical position) and when their careers develop, many have a yearning to get more involved with the business strategy. You are starting to find more people available with this skill set. They have the technical skill acquired from the first part of their career, and the business analyst skill and strong communication skill they’ve developed from the years spent in the business world.

What skills are needed to successfully fill a technical business analyst position? One of the key skills you need to have is the desire to understand the details of what is required to make the organization run well and overall knowledge of the business itself. In addition, you need the personality and drive of someone that wants to improve things. Add to this the ability to communicate with a lot of people about what they do in the organization. You need the communication skills, you need the skills to want to dive into the detail and make things better.

Have you seen that this role is growing, or is it something that could just be a fad -- the "flavor of the year" so to speak, and then next year we’ll be on to something else?

This role is becoming a dominant force inside of IT and inside of the business units that are starting to manage their own systems. One thing that the industry hasn’t standardized on is the title of the role. Although I’ve seen technical business analyst used often, I’ve also seen the title technical analyst for the same role. Regardless, the technical business analyst is becoming a highly valued employee. As we’ve seen during the recession, many of organizations are shedding IT people who have not enhanced their skill sets over the year. The more skills and knowledge you can accumulate, the move valuable you are to the organization.

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