Change for the better
What is Business Analysis?
Business analysis concerns the identification and definition of those vital changes, large and small, that all organisations must constantly make in order to:
The IIBA defines business analysis as the 'practice of enabling change in an enterprise'.
It’s concerned with defining changes to the way an organisation or enterprise does what it does.
Like ships at sea, where storms can explode into life with little or no warning, all organisations operate in an environment,
- over which they have no control
- and which is constantly changing
What is a business analyst?
'Business Analyst' is a role that performs business analysis. There are many job titles for this role.
Sources of Change
The changes that organisations must react to are caused by a mix of:
- Society - Cultures and trends - What's cool and what's not
- Laws of societies and of nature
- Environment - the natural environment in which we all live
These are the 'drivers for change'.
The initial letters of the words of the sources for change form the word, 'PESTLE'.
PESTLE is a technique that organisations use to prompt them to consider where the next changes might come from.
Thinking in advance is important because organisations must:
- quickly choose the most appropriate response to the change
- make any necessary adjustments to their strategy
Failure to do this risks being pushed aside.
The ability to respond quickly and appropriately is summed in the concept of 'business agility'. The ability to respond effectively is dependent on the organisation's relative strengths and weaknesses.
Business analysts can help to guide organisations in becoming more agile. In fact, PESTLE is a good place to start to answer the question, "What is business analysis?" It follows that business analysts must understand the organisation's strategy.
Customers, Suppliers and Competition
Organisations provide services for individuals or other organisations; these are their customers.
It is vital that organisations understand who their best customers are. Effective business analysts must also have this awareness.
Businesses in similar sectors compete for these customers.
To source the development of their product, organisations in all sectors must compete for the limited resources available from suppliers. These resources may be intellectual or physical, tangible or intangible.
The nature of the competition must be understood by organisations and their business analysts.
Rummler and Ramias elegantly demonstrate all of the above in their book, ‘White Space Revisited', a must read for business analysts.
To manage and coordinate their activities, organisations create business processes. These form a major element of business analysis and business architecture.
What is a business process?
Sharp and McDermott define a process as:
- a set of related activities, ...
- triggered by an event, ...
- which achieves a specific result ...
- for the customer and other stakeholders.
An example of a business event is an order received from a customer.
Results of the process that delivers the customer's order are:
- The customer receives what they ordered
- The organisation gets paid
People, Culture and Processes
Good business analysts also understand the people who operate the processes; these are the business analyst's own customers.
The operation of all organisations is affected by the prevailing culture; this too must be understood by business analysts.
The processes on which the life of an organisation really depends are those that are seen by the customers. They must provide value to those customers. In delivering the goods and services, the processes deliver the organisation’s value proposition, their promise of value to the customers.
Processes create and use data. This too forms a major element of business analysis and architure.
Business analysts must seek to understand
- what data an organisation has
- where it is created and used
- where and how it is stored
Modern applications such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, machine learning, business intelligence and data warehousing are dependent on such knowledge.
Business analysts who have a deep understanding of data and analytics can support the data scientists employed on applications such as AI. They can also help to ensure that the data scientists deliver results of real business value.
If you are not familiar with data modelling, take a look at this short article and video.
Business rules authority, Ronald Ross, said that rules are typically derived from business policies.
- Business processes
- Use of data
- Compliance with regulations and acceptable norms of behaviour
They are the glue that binds things together.
Unfortunately, business rules are often out of sight, in databases, computer code, documents and people's minds.
Business analysts can take a leading role in:
- bringing rules into the open
- ensuring that they are written in the language of the organisation
- and placing the control of them in the hands of people who operate the business
A Holistic Approach
Although business processes, data and business rules are at the heart of all organisations' operations, they cannot simply be viewed in isolation. They affect each other.
They are also affected by things such as the:
- workplace and its layout
- management organisation structure
- use of tools and technology
To appreciate the implications of this requires an understanding of the structure of the organisation.
Business analysts must consider all of these things both independently and collectively. This is known as taking a holistic approach, a cornerstone of effective business analysis.
Business analysis provides a bridge between the business and its use of IT. That bridge can be constructed with an enterprise architecture.
The architecture links business strategy to IT strategy and the elements that make up the implementation of that strategy. It comprises, directly or indirectly, all of the things discussed in this article.
This allows the impact of changes in strategy to be assessed. It also paves the way for the support of change programmes and projects.
Change Programmes and Projects
When there appears to be a problem or opportunity a team comprising business people, business analysts, architects and other relevant groups can examine it.
This typically means creating a programme or project. The critical success factors for business analysis are similar to those for project management. There is a close relationship between these two functions and the roles of business analyst and project manager.
The team seeks to:
- Understand the root cause of a problem
- Assess the size of the opportunities created by the solution
- Define the scope of the project or programme
They can also,
- assess the obstacles to achieving success
- make a case for change, the business case.
Requirements for a solution
A key responsibility of a business analyst is to determine the requirements for a solution that will,
- solve the problem
- deliver the opportunity
Identifying and defining the true requirements and successfully building solutions based on these requirements, as long been difficult to achieve.
Modern approaches to projects often involve an iterative, so called 'agile' approach, avoiding an immediate dive into detail.
In agile projects, a business analyst might take the role of product owner. This role can
- help to communicate the goal of the product
- manage the backlog of needed activities
An aim of such approaches is flexibility in response to changes arising during the project. This in turn can support the achievement of business agility.
We have seen that business analysis is a wide ranging topic. The business analysis techniques involved in identifying detailed requirements are deceptively straight forward. In the words of Alexander and Beus-Dukic, it's "Simple but not easy".
To see more about what is involved in becoming a business analyst, and the skills and training required, click this link.