The business analysis profession has always been involved in the “data” area from its earliest days. In chapter 10 of the BABOK® Guide, we describe techniques that BAs use, such as Data Flow Diagrams, Data Mining, and Data Modeling, including classic Entity-Relationship Diagramming. BABOK® Guide v3 also includes more about data in the perspective on Business Intelligence.
With new changes in the business and the demand for data, information, and evidence-based decision making, the role of the BA and the whole interaction with the data area is evolving. There are three major areas where that change is putting more emphasis on BAs to understand data in new ways and to develop new skills to improve the value of the profession.
In the first area, the new BA will be a consumer of data. So much of the user experience information comes back as data from measurements, surveys, web analytics, and social media sources that the BA needs to analyze and determine the requirements to improve that user experience. More than ever, human interface and design is based on actual metric information and the BA needs to understand how to analyze, interpret, and use this information to understand the customer experience. This is most obvious in dealing with web and mobile site information that is exposed to the external customer.
In the “elicitation” process, the BA is no longer just interviewing internal stakeholders, but the collaboration, research, and experiments now extend to external groups, often in large numbers, with various ways of indicating their preferences. It opens up the analysis to understand more deeply the types of horizontal segmentation of the users and their persona profiles. The data revealed will show how to best meet the needs in a way that can substantially improve the user experience.
This kind of insight, based on data, is such a powerful tool for the BA. It changes the heart of the role, which makes the BA extraordinarily valuable to the whole value proposition. It leverages the core capability of the BA to do analysis, evaluate options, and focus on creating real value advantage. Of course, the BA needs to understand how to deal with this type of data, how to organize it, harvest it, and act on it with the right analytical approach. It draws on the BAs full range of skills and it impacts all of the core knowledge areas.
The second area is about expanding the concepts outlined in the business intelligence perspective. In many business situations, the notion of business intelligence, or now more commonly referred to as Data Analytics, is not a separate initiative or project, but is embedded into how a business makes its operating and marketing decisions. The ability to access information, to bring back the relevant segments of the data to analyze, and to draw conclusions from that data is now the expected practice. BAs need to operate with proficiency with the “power users” to understand the business and to be able to create insights into the data for useful decision making. This skill level is not at the same depth as a dedicated data professional, but the Gartner notion of the “citizen data scientist” seems like a workable description of the skill base needed.
In addition to understanding the data, the BA profession also needs to bring its broad understanding of the business together with its information environment, its grasp of the “big data” components, and pull them together to create insights and see trends as they emerge. This means getting behind the data and driving out the analysis in ways in which it can be understood and acted upon. Often this involves using data visualization skills. It means creating the right focus and using the right techniques of analysis to reveal what value is in the mass of information. At its core, it means the BA is lending insights that make the BA a truly trusted advisor to the business. This is beyond a project or a program level of involvement. It means that BAs are an indispensable partner to the business.
The third area is how the BA will need to understand data, and how it is the driver of AI and Machine Learning. These technologies are based on algorithms that take in data and learn the relevancy of the information, and improve their assessments of situations based on their absorption of patterns within the data. Each AI tool set has its own ways of handling the massive amounts of data that drive the algorithms, but the context of the data and the approach to applying it, is very purpose driven. The BA role in this new technology is to bridge the business need to the technology capability. This is a very core way in which BAs have always operated, in linking the business to the solution outcome. That role will continue in the new digital space and BAs will need to learn and adapt to the tools and technologies offered to get these solutions. New technologies will create new tools and techniques to deal with the new digital space, but data, analysis, and a collaborative approach lay at the heart of how the profession will evolve with the digital changes.
The conclusion is that the BA profession needs to evolve with the changes in business models, in technology, and in the new role definitions of so many professions. The old lines of roles are blurring and the new focus is on business outcomes and on creating great customer experiences. The new BA will still be based on the core skills and knowledge areas, but with new tools, new techniques, and new methods to create great solutions.