The Business Analyst's, Customer Has Changed - Forever!
I remember when I first started my business analysis career in 1998. I was unceremoniously moved from my supervisory role in billing at a shipping company to IT to be the business analyst on a project involving moving billing systems from the oh-so-lovely “green screens” to the even more lovely client-server, point-and-click interface. Well, it was more lovely back then. But I digress.
Yesteryear's Definition of a Customer
In those days, the “customer” of our company was so far removed from the “customer” I served as a business analyst, they hardly entered into the conversation as we moved through our projects. Even the final product produced by our system – the customer’s bill itself – was the least of our worries; after all, it was only a piece of paper that got printed and mailed. The whole point of computers back then was to minimize paper in the office, so any actual paper product, regardless of the level of actual importance, was the object of a certain amount of scorn.
So instead, we focused on our “internal” customer, those who had their hands on our actual systems, entered and manipulated data, those experts who magically knew what information they needed to have validation on in order to make those systems sing. Enter Shirley, data entry whiz kid, who had all those tabs stops on the green screens memorized and could crank out so many bills a day it would make your head spin. Her biggest concern was job elimination since the new interfaces required less typing and automated much of what she did. A valid concern, no doubt, but she was my customer, and I knew that I needed what she had in her brain to help me do my job to serve her. The good news was, I could sit with her, watch her work, talk to her directly, ask her questions, and basically have a direct line to what our systems needed to do. Those were the good old days!
The Rise of the True Customer
Over the next couple of decades, things changed dramatically. Home computers became ubiquitous. Actual people, not just office workers, started learning their way around computer interfaces. Cell phones got smaller and smaller, then smarter, then larger, and could do more than a personal computer ever could. The internet connected everyone to more information than they ever could conceive! A new generation grew up without ever knowing a time when they didn’t have a smartphone or a tablet. They didn’t have to “learn” how to use devices, it came naturally, as effortless as it was for me to set my parents’ VCR back in the day.
And with this advent of new, widespread knowledge and access, came a new consumer who not only wanted to but demanded, to have digital access to companies they do business with. Many functions that used to rely on a clerk in a store or an office to perform, now must be put into the hands of the direct consumer of a product or a service – the true Customer (with a capital C) who was once a mere afterthought. Someone who used to have no interest or access to what was going on behind the curtain of technology now expects it. And with the rise of artificial intelligence and virtual reality, the line between Customer and technology becomes even more blurred until, one day, it will disappear.
For some analysts, this is a scary thought:
- How do we harness the needs of the Customer when there are so many of them?
- We no longer have a quick walk down the hall to pick their brains – how do we elicit requirements from such a nebulous source?
- With so many generations of device users out there, with different comfort levels and expectations, how do we deliver products and services that meet all their needs?
- And what about that internal customer (with a lower-case c) who still has a huge stake in what we’re creating – how do we satisfy them at the same time?
It’s clear that the Business Analysts' Customer in today’s digital world is night-and-day different than the ones we served in the past. It’s exciting, yet daunting, and serving them definitely requires a new set of tools and a fresh mindset. We’re no longer replacing green screens – we’re trying to stay ahead of ever-more-technologically-savvy Customers who know the outcomes they want and won’t accept anything less.
Follow this blog series to learn how to get into the Business Analysts' Customer’s minds and find new ways to deliver those outcomes.