What is a business analyst? Everything you need to know about one of the most crucial jobs in tech

What is a business analyst?

Business analysts engage with senior decision makers about potential changes or improvements to systems and services.

What does a business analyst do?

These data-savvy professionals use facts and figures to assess processes, determine business requirements and deliver advice to senior stakeholders. IT business analysts need to identify opportunities for digital transformation and then use data to show how technology can create value for the business.

Barbara Munnelly, managing consultant at recruiter Harvey Nash, provides a concise description of their position in the organisation: “Business analysts typically sit in a role that provides a conduit between a company’s technology team and the rest of the business.”

What skills does a business analyst require?

Recruitment firm Robert Half says key skills for the business analyst role include: outlining opportunities and solutions for a business; budgeting and forecasting; planning and monitoring; financial modelling; and pricing and reporting.

Munnelly says strong business analysts are just as rare as adept IT professionals in more technical roles, sometimes rarer. She says that’s because the role requires a unique ability to hone two quite different skillsets: a deep enough understanding of a wide range of technologies; and a strong ability to understand, influence and communicate.

“A candidate’s communication skills need to be strong in both written and verbal communication, with strong interpersonal skills to be able to engage with and facilitate interactions with all business stakeholders. They will also need to be analytical and detail-oriented, delivering a high level of accuracy in their work,” she says.

How do you become a business analyst?

University admissions service UCAS says a good starting point is an undergraduate degree in computer science, business information systems, computing and systems development, or business management. Many IT analysts have a technical background, such as in software development or programming.

How does a business analyst work with their other IT and business colleagues?

Membership organisation the BCS says junior business analysts work with colleagues and stakeholders to investigate business functions, processes and data structures. More experienced business analysts investigate operational issues, new opportunities and seek improvements in aspects of business areas or systems.

SEE: Guide to Becoming a Digital Transformation Champion (TechRepublic Premium)

Capital One Europe CTO Joe Soule says business analysts are a crucial component in the product-design chain in his organisation. “We’re a commercial business and so working with the marketing and analytics team, and the business analyst function, is crucial,” he says.

“A great product has three constituent parts: ‘is it feasible?’, that’s my responsibility; ‘can it be built, is it viable and will it make money?’, which is the business analyst’s job; and then product and design, which is the most important question – which is, ‘will anyone buy it; does it answer a need?'”

What does a great business analyst look like?

Claire Dickson, group CIO at multinational packaging business DS Smith, says professionals who understand what business outcome the organisation is trying to deliver – and who collect requirements around that – are crucial for every IT department, including her own.

“And I don’t mind if you call the role business analyst or something else, but that bridge between a business outcome and technology – and having someone that can document that requirement well – that’s still needed,” she says.

Dickson says the best business analysts focus on the experiences that will be delivered to customers through the use of technology. “If we’re using design-led thinking around a customer journey that we’re trying to optimise, there’s someone that needs to capture that in a way that we can translate into technology terms.”

She says that skilled business analysts ensure their organisations are making the right investment decisions in what can often be quite specialist domains: “Business analysis and consulting is still important to ensure that we’re going in the right direction.”

What’s the demand like for business analysts?

Very high – the role has been in the top five most-challenging skills to find for a number of years, according to research by Harvey Nash. The recruiter says IT business analysts who possess narrow and deep business knowledge are most in-demand when compared to individuals with more generalist analysis skills.

How much are business analysts paid?

The average salary for a business analyst in the UK is £42,755, according to Glassdoor. Indeed reports the average salary in the US hits $76,783, with additional bonuses of around $4,000. Top business analyst roles can earn considerably more, with big tech and finance firms often offering basic salaries above six figures.

What roles do business analysts move into next?

Those looking to move into more senior analyst roles might choose to boost their credentials with specialist business analyst certifications from organisations such as the International Institute of Business Analysis and the Project Management Institute.

Business analysts have a tight relationship with project managers and enterprise architects and the overlap between the roles means there are opportunities to switch into mixed roles with broader briefs. Business analysts who are keen to widen their experiences can also move into consultancy or chose to set up as a freelance contractor.

What does the future look like for business analysts?

In short, good, says Harvey Nash’s Munnelly: “Technology is at the heart of all businesses now and, for many, what goes on and comes from the technology team often requires a conduit or translator to help them understand technology talk while ensuring their demands are relayed accurately to the technology teams.”

How will the business analyst role change during the next few years? 

Ian Cohen, chief product and information officer (CPIO) at healthcare specialist Acacium Group, says his company still uses business analysts and that’s unlikely to change soon.

“I always think there’s a need for analysis as a skill,” he says. “The ability to translate requirements, design and refine process – such that everyone understands the overall ‘need’ – means you require people with great descriptive and interpretive skills who are comfortable with feet in all camps, whether that’s customer, client, colleague, internal or external.”

What might need to change, however, is the job title. Cohen says the term business analyst suggests an emphasis on everything outside of IT; the title systems analyst isn’t necessarily right either, as it suggests a concentration on all-things technical. Instead, bringing together the best of both business and IT via a focus on outcomes is probably the best answer.

“What we might need is something like an outcomes or experience analyst, because then the role is not just about systems and business. We need to create what I increasingly think of as ‘an outside-in lens’; you need to be able to look at everything around you, and think about how you would assemble those elements to create a better customer outcome,” he says.