Not all business analysts are created equal. That is to say, not all business analysts perform the same functions. They can generally be divided into two areas: IT and non-IT. Allow me to explain.
IT Business Analysts (a.k.a. Systems Analysts)
- The title of a business analyst working in the IT function is usually something like “IT Business Analyst” or “Systems Analyst.”
- IT stands for Information Technology. As defined perfectly by our good friend Wikipedia, “Information technology (IT) is the application of computers and telecommunications equipment to store, retrieve, transmit and manipulate data, often in the context of a business or other enterprise.”
- In a nutshell, the role of an IT business analyst is to strategically leverage IT systems and processes to meet the needs of different teams and departments throughout the organization. They are the liaison between IT and the functional business units (marketing, sales, etc.)
- An IT business analyst will usually have expertise in a number of different IT and software systems such as Oracle, Salesforce, etc. The technical knowledge that an IT business analyst has around these software and IT systems allows him to make recommendations around how best to implement these tools throughout the organization.
- The role surpasses the pure technology aspect of IT and impacts the processes and practices of employees who use the technology in question.
- IT business analysts can often act as the intermediaries between IT and business-focused teams such as marketing, product, and operations. The IT business analyst will be responsible for understanding the requirements, needs and processes of these different business teams. He then communicates this to IT in order to help the organization’s functional units leverage technology to achieve their goals.
Functional Business Analysts
- If you work in a department other than IT, it’s safe to say you are what can be called a “functional” business analyst. This means you work in a specific business function as mentioned above (marketing, operations/supply chain, product, etc.).
- Functional analysts are experts within their function. For instance, a business analyst on the marketing team would have a very good understanding of conversion funnels, SEO/SEM, Google Analytics, e-mail marketing, etc.
- A functional business analyst usually works on four main types of projects:
- Forecasting and projections: This can range from forecasting marketing spend for the next 4 quarters to projecting gross margin on a new product line. This task requires using historical data and statistical modeling to make inferences about the future of the business.
- Metrics tracking and reporting: This is often the core of a functional business analyst’s role. You will be required to devise relevant metrics that will help managers track and understand the health and performance of the business. You’ll sometimes be asked to build reporting dashboards that aggregate and automatically update the key business metrics associated with your functional area. For example, a supply chain analyst might construct a dashboard that tracks average shipping speed, fill rate, inventory utilization, etc.
- Troubleshooting: This is tied to metrics tracking and reporting, but with an unfortunate twist. On occasion, one or more of the metrics you are tracking may move into alarming territory. Maybe e-commerce conversion has dropped 50% from month to month, or user engagement has become nonexistent. It will be your job to attend to this “fire drill” and pinpoint the source of the problem.
- Exploratory analysis: This is one of the most exciting tasks you may get to do as a business analyst. Unfortunately, these projects may be few and far between as the immediate needs of the business are prioritized. Exploratory analysis deals with figuring out new and exciting insights into the business from existing data that has usually never been examined in depth before. Businesses often collect more data than they know what to do with. When he has the time, a business analyst may be asked to dig into this data to find any potential golden nuggets. This type of analysis has been falling more and more into the realm of data scientists who deal with “Big Data”, a very popular buzzword in the business world these days.
Now that you’ve got a better understanding of the different roles a business analyst can play, it’s time for the next step: understanding the qualifications and requirements to become a business analyst.