The past decade saw an explosion in demand for business analysts. Back in 2010, data-focused companies were still relatively new and analytics weren’t as commonly used. Since then, however, data analytics has become an integral part of every department in many organizations, moving BAs from their siloed corners.
While there’s been a lot of change over the last 10 years, there’s more to come. The role of a business analyst is constantly evolving along with the way we run our businesses. Let’s consider how the BA role has changed over the past few years and what this means for this career trajectories in 2020 and beyond.
BAs Can Be Found Across the Organizational Chart
As demand for business analysts has increased, we have seen BAs join every department in an organization, from entry-level HR teams to senior leadership. It is clear that BAs can fit wherever they need within an organizational chart.
“A good Business Analyst’s skills as guardian of clarity, point of alignment, reasoning and value-focused thinking, as well as an inter-disciplinary facilitator, are so crucial to project success that every team that cannot cover that role will find themselves in trouble,” writes consultant Marcel Britsch.
To highlight the demand and value that BAs provide, Amazon is focusing on upskilling workers with business analyst abilities. TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez says the company is investing more than $700 million to retrain and upskill 100,000 workers across the United States. One of the jobs being trained for is a business analyst, which Amazon says is one of the fastest-growing highly-skilled jobs over the past five years. Based on its own data, business analyst jobs increased by 160 percent.
As private companies invest more in business analysis, educators and academics are preparing business school students for their future careers. Wells Fargo data management consultant Atanas Hansen writes that the business analyst is “much like a neuron processing and transmitting information throughout the nervous system.” In other words, BAs are in the center of a cross-functional system where they touch everything within a company and help in multiple ways. Every company can use business analysis within the vast majority of its departments.
Business Analysts Work in a Highly Flexible Field
While some industries may have a hard time filling roles when the demand for work is so high, many teams are able to fill business analyst roles because of their flexibility. The work BAs do is incredibly diverse, which has led to many changes in job titles, roles, and management levels.
This lack of standardization will continue, says business analyst Adrian Reed, who noticed the flexibility in the job title of business analysts in 2017. He explains that the term “business analyst” means many things to many people. “Some BAs work purely on requirements. Others do everything from strategic analysis right through to delivery (and beyond).”
That variety is a good thing. It allows people to develop their own specialties and career paths based on their interests, skills, and demands of their employers.
“The scope of business analysis is growing into strategic planning, enterprise architecture and optimizing current operations,” explains Jamie Champagne, business analyst, and speaker. “However, it is easy to see how the business analyst role or skill set could easily be found in project management, process improvement, operational management, planning and support roles throughout the organization.”
Many business analysts go where they are called within a company, but they also have the flexibility to choose where they want to work based on their interests and skillsets.
BAs Use the Job Title as a Stepping Stone
Not only can business analysts in 2020 and beyond take control of their careers through the natural flexibility of the work, but they can also use their skills as stepping stones to advanced positions.
Business analyst Balaji Angiya writes that BAs can step into one of many career paths. They can evolve into product owners, product managers, data analysts, process managers or scrum masters, to name a few. Moving into these roles allows business analysts to become more multi-functional while continuing to move the companies where they work forward.
To understand the nature of who works as a business analyst, Jeffrey A. Roth, chief marketing officer for the International Institute of Business Analysis, shared some interesting insight into the demographics of BAs.
Primarily, 64 percent of BAs have less than 10 years of experience. This speaks to the relatively young nature of the profession as more companies realize they need BAs on their teams. Many business and data professionals transition into the role and are molded by how their organizations operate.
BAs Bring a Human Touch to Data
The rise of business analysts over the past decade (and their continued growth in the future) stems from our access and reliance on data. We have access to more analytics than ever but need BAs to provide context and insight into what they mean.
“Software is getting more sophisticated, but it is nowhere near the human brain’s inference drawing capabilities,” Shaku Atre, president of business intelligence and data warehousing corporation Atre Group. “People have been naïve to think that new technology is going to solve all the problems in no time.”
- In 2020, more than 40 percent of data science tasks will be automated.
- By 2021, 66 percent of analytics processes will provide solutions instead of just reporting on what happened and why.
This speaks to the value of business analysts, who will take the automated data and make suggestions for action or review data-driven insights to make sure the recommendations are sound. “Not only is the overall amount of data increasing, but the number of types of data is also increasing, and the applications that store and generate data are increasing as well,” writes Amit Levi, vice president of product and marketing at analytics platform Anodot.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there. Even bots that get better at providing solutions still need business analysts to interpret the ideas and provide context to them.
“Businesses need to convey information to decision-makers in a way that is actionable and easy to understand,” Matt Trought writes at Talent International. “Known as data storytelling, this is a vital part of analytics; it starts a conversation around data and places the audience at the center.”
While you may think of business analytics are a purely numerical role, analysts need soft skills and emotional intelligence to give meaning to their insights.
Business Analysts Are Carving a Path in Agile
One of the main trends that have affected business analysts in the past decade is the rise of the agile framework. Is there still a place for BAs when there aren’t detailed pages of requirements? Not only have business analysts stayed relevant in companies with agile processes, but they have adapted and thrived — something they will continue to do in the coming years.
“BAs can support agile teams in many different ways, though the role can and should be dependent on the needs of a specific team or set of teams,” writes agile coach Rich Stewart. Rather than trying to push a business analyst into a specific job or box, leaders can create environments for them to thrive and to fill in any gaps within their companies.
- Focus on developing solutions to problems and guiding teams to make those ideas realities.
- Define important metrics to reach.
- Define requirements in small chunks that are adjusted along with the project.
As you can see, there is no one set way of doing things. It’s up to the BA to choose the path that makes the most sense within the organization.
“The days of huge requirements documents and extensive use cases are numbered,” writes business analyst career coach Joe Barrios. “Organizations just don’t have time to create documentation that nobody is going to read and that do not provide immediate and obvious value. While requirements will always matter, they will appear in more nimble ways such as user stories and epics.”
Unfortunately, BAs don’t always have an easy time during an agile transition, says Jorge Escamilla Zuñiga, lead business system analyst at Inflection Point Systems. They often have to learn where they fit within a company or process once that organization stops using a traditional waterfall method. This can create a period of confusion and uncertainty until these analysts figure out where they fit in.
Companies will continue to get more agile and more data-focused. Business analysts are essential to provide context to data and use it to guide teams to make the best decisions possible. This career path will continue to grow in the coming years regardless of how technology and leadership practices change.
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