The business analysis (BA) community has been supported and enhanced by an established BCS professional panel. Debra Paul, Chief Examiner for the wide-ranging BCS certification scheme for business analysts, explains how business analysis has evolved and where it is going in the future.

The role of the BA is varied and wide-ranging. Essentially, the role encompasses investigating proposed changes to organisations, defining and evaluating change options, clarifying requirements and supporting the deployment of changes.

The BA offers a point of unification, ensuring that the changes that are designed, developed and eventually deployed are those needed to increase efficiency, effectiveness and an enhanced customer experience. BAs support internal and external stakeholders through the process of change, ensuring that the transition is smooth and the desired outcomes are achieved.

Business analysts all have core skills, but what about specialisms?

Business analysis offers a professional career that can cover many different aspects of the business change process. As a result, there are core aspects, such as stakeholder engagement and requirements analysis, and there are areas of specialism, such as data analysis and business case development.

Some organisations require their BAs to specialise in different aspects of the role, so you might have an organisation that employs BAs majoring on the business side and other BAs who focus more on the software / technical side. As digital transformations proceed, it is not unusual to find organisations building a separate digital business analysis team.

Many BAs build on their experience in a particular business domain or sector, say banking or retail, but others are happy to move into different domains; you might find BAs who have specialised in the financial sector and then moved to manufacturing, retail, or consultancy. There’s not a terribly rigid delineation, as business analysis skills are highly transferable.

So, the role of the BA is varied. Often, the exact nature of the work and the areas of responsibility depend upon the organisation’s strategies and policies.

How does BCS cater for the very varied BA role within the certification scheme?

The certification schemes that BCS offers extend from an introductory, apprentice-BA level to the expert award. Along this pathway, there are many qualifications that assess individuals in different subjects and at different levels of competence. These qualifications provide standardisation to business analysis work and all have longevity. The most well-known (and the one with the greatest longevity) is the scheme leading to the BCS International Diploma in Business Analysis.

A professional panel developed the International Diploma in the late 1990s. At that time, there were no standards for business analysis - neither in qualifications or publishing, so the Diploma really was a huge leap forward for organisations employing BAs and trying to make sense of this role. Back then, we were very keen to make sure that the Diploma encompassed the three areas of skill that BAs need in their toolkit: professional analysis skills, interpersonal skills and business skills.

In developing the Diploma, we ensured that those areas were covered, whilst also allowing elective specialisms, so that BAs and their organisations could choose certifications that were pertinent to their role. There are two different categories of specialism (knowledge-based and practitioner) that people can select to flavour their own Diploma.

As an example, two of the practitioner specialism options within the International Diploma are Modelling Business Processes, a very business-focused view that concerns the analysis and improvement of business processes, and Systems Modelling Techniques, which is concerned with modelling IT systems. So, one for BAs with a business specialism and another for those with a more technical focus.

The Advanced International Diploma programme also ensures adaptability and flexibility. BAs choose from different options across the three skill areas according to their personal career needs and the requirements of their organisations.

So, although there is a core structure, there is room for flexibility within the Diplomas?

Absolutely. There are core modules within the International Diploma and interestingly, the two core modules focus on areas that are central to business analysis itself.

One is Requirements Engineering, and, if you think about it, all business changes are driven by what is needed, i.e. the requirements. And there is Business Analysis Practice, which is concerned with understanding the strategic context for business, recognising stakeholders’ differing views and analysing how to work with them.

While there are no specified core modules within the Advanced International Diploma, there is a requirement that each candidate gains certifications across the three skill areas.

As time and changing requirements influence the role of the business analyst, how do you feel the tools needed to cope with that change will evolve?

The business analysis toolkit includes techniques that have been used for many years and newer ones that have been developed more recently. It is constantly evolving.

Some techniques have been in use for many, many years but are still relevant because they help address current issues. For example, organisations face pressures from the external environment that cause them to change. BAs need to understand these pressures so they can define the required organisational responses.

While the need to change has been a constant for many decades, the exact nature of the changes organisations need to make today are different. Techniques such as PESTLE analysis look at the external environment and identify the pressures that need responses. The L in PESTLE stands for 'legal'; all organisations have to be aware of any relevant changes to regulations and laws, so that they can ensure compliance. The PESTLE technique helps ensure that any legal changes are known about and the response is analysed. It is a longstanding BA technique that is likely to be needed for the foreseeable future.

The toolkit for BAs evolves because of new technologies, priorities, approaches and techniques. To give an example, digital transformation is right at the heart of a lot of organisations’ thinking at the moment. The typical question is: ‘how can we use the features and facilities that digital technologies offer us?’ A key aspect of this is to consider how organisations make sure that what they offer works for their customers. This is a significant, topical area that can be considered through a number of different lenses - one of which might be how we make things more customisable for customers and offer a more personalised experience.

Alignment with customer experience is ensuring that the customer always gets exactly what fits their needs and sometimes even exceeds what they were expecting. If we look at analysis techniques such as Customer Journey Mapping and Empathy Mapping, these are becoming increasingly embedded in the business analysis toolkit. Some of the original techniques like PESTLE, interviewing and workshop facilitation are always going to be needed, but newer techniques that help BAs to analyse areas such as customer experience are becoming more and more prevalent, extending the toolkit of techniques.

Marketing is becoming more granular. People are marketing to individual people rather than to target groups. How do you think AI might impact on the level of customer service people enjoy?

AI opens new possibilities for organisations to understand and address customer preferences. Within change programmes, there is always a need to understand people and BAs use ‘personas’ to do this, a technique that originated in marketing and is now firmly within the BA toolkit.

Personas are used to understand a role that interacts with the organisation, business process, IT system or whichever area is being looked at. In many situations, that role might be ‘customer’ or a particular customer group (because all customers are not alike) and this is something that marketing has understood for a long time. In other situations, BAs might look at a persona for a regulator or a supplier; the technique can be used to analyse all sorts of roles.

Do you feel that emotional influences are being examined more through business analysis now than previously?

If you go back a few decades when the systems analyst role was prevalent, systems analysts were very focused on the IT system. That’s not to say systems analysts had a technical focus to the extent of software development and coding, but the work was technical in terms of modelling exactly what the system had to do. In those days, there was a lot of criticism about this focus on technology and the IT system. There was something missing, and that something was the people, the organisation and the processes - what I call the system wraparound.

Business analysis evolved as a professional discipline due to the recognition that this wraparound was essential. Many of us working as systems analysts realised that what we called a ‘holistic approach’ would address this and help ensure that key factors were not overlooked.

On a cultural level, there can never be a one-size-fits -all model. So how, when BCS takes the International Diploma to different countries, is culture addressed?

The issue with culture is highly significant. Within the International Diploma in Business Analysis, there is a certification module that requires understanding of organisational and national cultures for this reason. When we were reviewing and revising the Diploma oral examinations last year, we felt it was imperative that, even if a candidate hadn't chosen the written certificate module that covered cultures, they still had to be able to discuss it in the oral exam.

What we're trying to reflect is that culture has a huge impact and you do need to understand not just international cultures but cultures within organisations. People who work within different cultures can behave in very different ways and BAs have to understand that any changes need to fit with the ways of working as they are often based on deeply held values and beliefs. Understanding this helps to ensure that solutions are fit for purpose and that the BAs don’t try to deploy changes that are going to be resisted or even completely ignored within an organisation.

Does the BA Diploma change from country to country or is there a set, international standard?

The Diploma is the Diploma. It doesn't change between different countries because it covers the fundamental areas that BAs need to understand to carry out their work. It recognises that stakeholders from different countries and organisations are likely to hold different values and beliefs and explores how to cope with these differences. However, it doesn't tell you what the values and beliefs are going to be.

So, the Diploma gives BAs tools that they can use and adapt depending on the situation. For example, Hofstede's International Cultures are discussed within the Diploma and understanding Hofstede helps BAs to understand how to work within different environments and how they need to manage different stakeholder relationships.

Having said that, in my experience, even across different countries and cultures, people are still people and there are still common elements regarding values and beliefs that everyone adheres to. If you can understand culture - where there may be similarities and the types of differences - then you have the tools that will work across lots of different contexts.

Do all nations know the value of business analysts, or do some align it only with certain sectors such as IT or business finance?

It comes down to individuals and organisations rather than nations. I had a conversation with somebody in this country who is a programme manager and I said, ‘Have you come across BAs?’ and he said, ‘Oh yes, aren’t they something to do with IT?’

This is such an important issue to address. There are pressures on BAs from many different angles. Different roles, new rules, new philosophies, new ideas come into the world of transformational change and IT, and sometimes there's a belief ‘well anybody can do business analysis.’ Yet if you saw the extent of the toolkit and the level of skill BAs need, you would know that that can't possibly be correct.

There's been a lot of discussion about how we can ensure that people understand that business analysis and BAs offer something that not just anybody can offer; that it requires specific expertise and skill in using a range of techniques to do it effectively.

It is important that we engage with different organisations, maybe even governments, to deliver the message: ‘You actually need BAs and you should be using them’. It's a long-term aim, it's one that a lot of us have been working on for a long time. There is a huge community of BAs in the UK. It is a very, very collaborative, skilled and mature community. Although there has been a lot of development over the years, business analysis has yet to spread its wings to the extent that it can in some countries.

If you look at where the International Institute for Business Analysts is now and where it was ten years ago, the progress of business analysis is evident. IIBA has embraced the need for business analysis to be the broader, more holistic, more encompassing discipline that many of us have promoted for several decades. The growing awareness of the role, and the efforts to clarify it, should help business analysis to become more prominent in countries where this is not the case now.

Companies and individuals should recognise that if you work with BAs and they are empowered to take a holistic view, elicit and analyse information, identify potential impacts – then they can resolve issues that have not even been thought about and ease the path towards effective business change.

The role of the BA sounds like it is very creative.

It is. If you think of the word ‘analysis’ and what it means, it's based on thinking, it's based on reflection, it's based on gathering in information and then thinking it through – but it's also looking at a world of possibilities. BAs have to ask, ‘If this is the problem, what are the different options to solve it?’. Identifying those options usually involves some innovative and creative thinking.

BCS certification has enjoyed global success. Is this because BCS set the standards and led the way?

BCS has been the world leader in BA certification. BCS grasped the importance of business analysis at a very early stage. BCS has been absolutely fundamental to the development of business analysis as a professional discipline, particularly with the launch of the International Diploma in Business Analysis in 1999. In 2006, BCS published the first book (Business Analysis), which I co-authored and co-edited, that was dedicated to business analysis as a new and important discipline.

Prior to that, there were books on specific areas related to business analysis, for example there were books on requirements, but there weren't books on business analysis as this holistic, analytical, reflective discipline. So BCS was very much at the forefront of standardising business analysis activities and techniques, defining what was required of BAs.

So, was it the standardisation that was the key to BCS’ success?

A very senior BA from one of the largest organisations in the UK said to me, ‘What the BCS did was they introduced the Diploma. They gave us a standard toolkit. And yes, we could flavour it, we could choose our specialisms, but this gave us a standard to roll out to everybody, so everybody could communicate in the same way.’ This was a significant achievement that was a huge step forward at the time.

Will BCS certifications in business analysis help to further the career of a BA?

I think holding the Diploma in business analysis is almost a given. If you don't have that and you don't have that toolkit, it is probable that a BA won’t understand the breadth, variety and possibilities of the role. A very senior BA said to me, ‘I passed the Diploma, after being a BA for quite a few years. I was very experienced and I thought I really understood business analysis. But in studying for the Diploma, my toolkit went from maybe 25% to 100% - and that was the difference it made’.

That’s exactly what we want people to understand about the BCS Diploma in Business Analysis and the Advanced Diploma. We want to extend the way BAs think, we want them to see what's possible when performing the role and to appreciate that there are techniques that you can use in all sorts of situations.

The business analysis tool called RACI

You could use RACI in many situations and it applies across different business functions. If you were in HR, say, RACI would help to analyse and define levels of responsibility for tasks or deliverables. It answers questions such as: ‘Here's a set of tasks or here's a set of deliverables to be produced. Here's a set of roles. Who has actually got ownership? Who's accountable for the work? Who should you consult to do this work? Who should be informed about this work?’. It’s a very simple technique, but once you understand it, you'll find all sorts of reasons to use it.

Can the toolkit developed at BCS be used in a range of roles across different sectors?

The toolkit offered is excellent - it offers such a good grounding in techniques and approaches. I had a meeting with a senior HR person about a month ago and she mentioned that she had the Diploma in Business Analysis and commented that the toolkit and the skills learned could be applied in so many different areas. While my job title isn’t BA - it’s Managing Director - my job is made so much easier because I was a BA; I've got the BA toolkit and I can apply business analysis, which I regularly do in many, many situations.