Bill Aitken, Head of Business Systems Development at QA explains why strong business analysis skills are important for your organisation.

Whether you’re working in a global organisation with thousands of employees, or a small business with just a few staff, a clear understanding of business requirements, solutions and systems should be of critical importance to both your day-to-day operations and your future plans.

Why is this? Surely as long as things run smoothly you only need to examine processes or systems and scope requirements when you’re introducing something new?

This is no longer the case: the last few years have seen a number of changes to the business landscape, with a significant increase in organisational change and a rise in outsourcing of services.

Effective business analysis is central to the success of both change programmes and outsourcing contracts. Both rely on understanding what changes are being made, and what effect they are having on the organisation and for both processes, you need to understand at the outset where the business currently is and where it wants to get to.

Going forward, business analysis should have a strong strategic role in framing your organisation’s policy and approach to the business landscape. We look at some of the challenges currently facing business analysts and how they can be better approached:

Meeting customer expectations

In this more competitive landscape stakeholders have become more demanding - whether this is internal departments or external customers. Internal stakeholders expect business processes to function faster and more efficiently than ever before, while incurring minimal cost.

While improvements in consumer technology have led external stakeholders to expect ‘self service’ automation for business processes. If this is successfully achieved, then there are clear organisational benefits but the challenge for the business analyst is to ensure that services and systems meet the often conflicting requirements of all these stakeholders.

Strong communication skills are key to achieving this; making sure you’re effectively understanding and communicating with all the stakeholders in a project, whatever their level of seniority or business role. Negotiation and influencing skills are also vitally important. You know that you need to deliver what will work - not just what people think they want - but you will need their buy in for project success.

Shaping organisational change

Many organisations are undertaking significant change programmes, redefining how people work, how many people are needed to manage processes, and the services the business offers. Business analysis should be used to define this change: what should change, how it should change, and to what extent.

It should be used to define measures of success, and should remain a key part of projects and programmes throughout their lifecycle. However, it’s often the case that while business analysis is used at the start of a change programme it’s then subsumed into the project and is seen of lesser importance.

Business analysts need to have the confidence in their skills and the importance of what they do to make strong recommendations at all levels of the organisation and to instigate change throughout the project lifecycle.

An important part of this is an understanding of project management skills, and for project managers to understand business analysis. There are many shared skills between the two disciplines - and both are leadership roles, where you need to influence others and inspire confidence.

Delivering effective outsourcing

The rise in outsourcing has also seen a significant change in the way companies work. If your organisation is considering outsourcing, or is perhaps already engaged in an outsourcing agreement, then you’ll already know that requirements have to be well considered and documented.

You should know exactly how your business processes function and be able to easily communicate user requirements for key systems. However, there are a number of pitfalls that organisations experience when sharing processes with external suppliers, which can be overcome with strong business analysis skills:

  • assuming prior knowledge of their organisation and its processes when documenting requirements;
  • not understanding how a process currently runs, or assuming it works properly and missing the manual intervention required;
  • not communicating clearly with business stakeholders in external organisations;
  • expecting outsourced providers to manage a service that requires significant changes, and expecting these changes to be made without a change in ways of working;
  • asking for the ideal, not what will work in the here and now.

There are some key skills that will help you overcome these pitfalls. Ensuring that you and your team have an internationally-recognised accreditation in business analysis will provide the confidence that you’re using industry standard processes and terminology that can be shared across all part of the organisation and third party services.

You’ll also need to understand how to work effectively with third party suppliers, managing different behaviours or ways or working, holding negotiations that are mutually beneficial, and ensuring that key deliverables are met.

Business analysis can change an organisation’s ability to achieve its objectives. It can transform the success and acceptance of change programmes and outsourcing agreements. Its effects should reach across the whole organisation.

You can impact this by making sure you have the right skill set, such as those developed by the ISEB Diploma in Business Analysis, to make sure your organisation is using business analysis in the most effective way.