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Business Analysts are Systems Analysts

Taken from Treatise: On Business Analysis, the Nature and Evolution of the Profession

By Perry McLeod, CBAP, PMP 
imageWe tend to think of the term "Business Systems Analyst" as a job title that is slightly more technical than that of a regular Business Analyst. Let's stop and think about that for a moment. 
First, let's hyphenate business and systems and recreate the term as Business-Systems Analyst. With this new hyphenated word we can argue that we analyse business-systems. 
Almost everything around us is a system, of one kind or another. A business or organization is a system. Some of those systems are mechanical or automatic while some are manual or organic. These systems are, in turn, made of smaller systems which, are made up of even smaller systems. With this in mind, is it not fair to write that a business analyst is really a business-systems analyst? If so, then a business-systems analyst must be a systems thinker.
Systems thinking is a way to solve problems by breaking the issue into the constituent elements and looking at each of them independently, and then as permutated elements until the root cause is found. Systems thinking is not one thing but a set of habits or practices within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can be best understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. 
A system is composed of entities and expresses these qualities:
  • All the parts or entities of the system must be related (directly or indirectly)
  • A system is encapsulated – it has a boundary
  • The boundary of a system is a decision made by an observer, or a group of observers
  • A system can be nested inside another system
  • A system can overlap with another system
  • A system is bounded in time
  • A system is bounded in space, though the parts are not necessarily co-located
  • A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment
  • A system consists of processes that transform inputs into outputs
  • A system is autonomous in fulfilling its purpose, i.e. a car is not a system; a car with a driver is a system. 
Systems thinkers must know how to create successful arguments using a variety of methods. Using abductive, inductive and deductive thinking is a way to discipline the mind and maintain a systems mindset.
Abductive reasoning from the root to abduce is a way to build logical inferences through observation in an effort to come to a hypothesis that accounts for the observed event. This thinking technique is usually reserved for high-level ideas and propositions (organizations will often refer to this as the ‘5000-foot’ level) in an example, provided by the phrases creator American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), he abduces that it must have rained last night because the lawn was wet when he opened the door to get his morning newspaper. It does not take a logician to see that this is a dangerous assumption based on the current observation – inductive and deductive thinking is required to get to the root cause for the wet lawn.
Inductive reasoning may be thought of as progression from a particular set of individual instances to broader set of more generalized ones. An example in a process driven organization might be: All the requirements documents that have come out of the BA Centre of Practice are flawed and useless; therefore Business Analysis Centres of Practice are not worth an organization’s investment. We can clearly see this as a fallacy. As with abduction, induction is uncertain. Inductive reasoning allows for the possibility that the conclusion is false, even if all of the premises are true. Therefore, we must continue our analysis further into the world of deductive reasoning.
Deductive reasoning links premises with conclusions. If all premises are true, the terms are clear, and the rules of deductive logic are followed, then the conclusion reached is true. Deductive reasoning is a process where reasoning from one or more general statements, called premises or propositions, to reach a logically certain conclusion.
As an analyst you may already be used to thinking in this way but just not used to structuring your thoughts or following a strict line of reasoning. Try thinking of yourself as a business-systems analyst regardless of what your employer calls you. You will find, by looking at everything around you as a system, your analysis style will improve in ways you would have never imagined. 

2. Peirce, C. S. (1903), Harvard lectures on pragmatism, Collected Papers v. 5, paragraphs 188–189.