Understanding the "S" in Business Systems Analysis  

By Maureen McVey, CBAP  
I’m often asked: what is the difference between a business analyst and a business systems analyst or systems analyst? 
A business systems analyst isn’t a programmer, although they may have programming experience. They aren’t a software tester, but they may test software. They aren’t a database administrator although they query and model data.
Like any BA, the business systems analyst (BSA) works with the business to understand their needs, but their speciality and focus is the business’ needs related to information technology. They typically reside in the Information Technology department. Using their knowledge of the organization’s technology infrastructure and specific software applications (e.g. Human Resources/People Soft, or Finance modules in SAP or other industry applications) they help the business to address changes through technology.
Try not to get too hung up on titles—someone in this role may very well have the title Business Analyst or System Specialist—but it is the tasks and the level of detail that makes a Business Systems Analyst. The BSA may work to understand the overall business need, create a business case and then define the requirements using various approaches such as use cases then decompose the requirements to a sufficient level of detail allowing the implementation team to take action. The diagram below doesn’t encompass all of the activities of the BSA but it illustrates the progression of business need to functional specification. If you are focused on the first two steps in the process you probably aren’t a BSA.
*The BSA could be involved in all phases from need identification to implementation. The business could engage the BSA once the solution (business requirements) are defined and take them to enough detail that the requirements are testable and verifiable. 
Some people have asked: What if I work in a business department and have deep knowledge of a specific software application, am I a BSA?
Someone in the business brings knowledge of the user and customer experience. They will know the business rules and processes that drive customer value. To become a BSA you would need to build your business analysis skills. The following skills and knowledge align to the BA tasks as described in the A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide) published by International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA):
  • Planning related to the tasks associated with business analysis and the software development lifecycle (waterfall, iterative, Agile).
  • Stakeholder Analysis is conducted to identify the stakeholders who will be impacted by the change and understand their influence and authority levels.
  • Risk assessment using methods to identify risk, probability, impact and how to mitigate those risks.
  • Facilitation skills for meeting management, and requirements workshop planning and management.
  • Elicitation such as questioning techniques to gather information at the right level of detail and scope to represent all of the stakeholder’s needs, and the ability to ask questions that lead to an understanding of the business need rather than what they want.
  • Manage Requirements to understand the requirements change process, and traceability.
  • Communicating Requirements including the use of presentation skills and the ability to create a requirements package.
  • Organizational Analysis to identify current capabilities and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Utilizing various modeling techniques such as process modeling, data modeling, system modeling.
  • Interface analysis, the understanding of technology infrastructure and how it interconnects, including sharing data to achieve a business goal.
  • Writing requirements using different approaches such as use cases, activity diagrams, sequence diagrams and state charts, data dictionaries, class or entity relationship diagrams.
  • User experience, knowing how a user interface helps the user to successfully complete a task, also known as usability.
Another question I’ve been asked is: I have experience as a software programmer and have lots of technical experience, am I a business systems analyst?
You bring knowledge and modeling techniques to the BSA table. However, like the business person with deep knowledge of the business software application from the user perspective, business analysis skills are just as important for someone coming from the technology side of the house. Review the list above to determine which skills you need to develop.
Whatever your experience, title and background the Systems side of the Business Analysis career path centers around technology, data, networks, the internet, mobile devices and how technology supports the achievement of business goals.  
Our webinars will give you more insightful information on how to apply the skills needed to be a systems analyst.
BA Technical Webinar Series:  These webinars cover topics such as use cases, business process modeling notation (BPMN), and other analytical techniques.
IIBA Vendor Showcase Webinar:  These webinars give insight into the various tools for the business analyst. 
Spotlight Series:  You will gain knowledge in a number of areas including negotiation skills, and how to effectively elicit requirements, among other topics.
For more information on our webinars go to http://iiba.info/12uG7Uz
IIBA members can also visit the IIBA Online Library for books on systems analysis.
How much do you know about Systems Analysis? Take this short quiz to test your knowledge!
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