They straddle the worlds of technology and strategy. They often need to fight their way through office politics and organizational hurdles in order to ensure projects are completed successfully. Their role tends to be ill-defined and misunderstood, even though they are becoming ever-more critical contributors to achieving enterprise objectives.
For once, we’re not talking about CIOs.
It was less than two years ago that Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research published an in-depth report called "The New Business Analyst," which suggested that despite their growing importance, BAs often lacked a standing reporting structure, proper training or a clear career path. There was no question, however, that Forrester believed CIOs and other departmental executives would need more of them.
"They can single-handedly turn business-requested, IT-delivered applications into tomorrow’s dynamic business applications," the report said. "CIOs have new allies in the business."
Really? It often doesn’t feel that way. CIOs don’t necessarily directly manage business analysts. Few of the case studies published in this magazine and elsewhere suggest a partnership between CIOs and BAs was thriving behind the scenes. Though in some respects they are in the same position of negotiating between executive expectations and technological realities as chief information officers, the Forrester report noted that getting CIOs to appreciate the value of a BA may require "some education and even some evangelism."
Michael Gladstone may be the man for both jobs. At the International Institute of Business Analysis based in Toronto, Gladstone serves not only as the organization’s CIO but also as its vice-president of certification. Having worked in BA roles at financial services firms such as Meridian Credit Union and RBC Capital Markets, he spent years volunteering for the IIBA before taking on the dual role he enjoys today. He says it has given him a unique perspective on the relationship between the two camps.
"Both from what I’ve seen as well as the IIBA’s position is that CIOs do not take advantage of their BAs," he says. "It essentially comes down to that immaturity of the profession. Many organizations view their BAs as essentially everywhere from some kind of admin-type role to glorified documenters, where I sit down with you as my business partner, you tell me what you need and I write it down. People forget half of the role’s title – which means the BA might not be allowed to do actual analysis, but just what was being asked of them."
The consequences of that attitude can be significant, according to Peter Giblett, a consultant based in Toronto who has written about the CIO-BA relationship in the past.
"What has happened, of course, is that the recession has put a lot of work on the various parts of the IT team and what has happened is that many CIOs have said ‘We need our tech guys but we can do without some of the business analysts,’" he says. "The problem is when you get a business-type problem, if it’s not analyzed correctly, you can start putting in the wrong solution."