The Critical Role of People in Business Analysis

My journey in working for an organization that rapidly grew from a mom-and-pop shop to a corporation was not easy. As a part of re-structuring efforts, senior leadership heralded Agile, paired with Business Analysis, as the new way of working. But they failed to propagate the message down the hierarchical chain. So, as one would expect, our team of engineers initially failed to understand the need for Business Analysis as the key function responsible for working as liaisons across stakeholders to capture organizational structure, policies, and operations, and to recommend solutions to address strategic challenges and goals.

And then, leadership went through a shake-up, onboarding new leaders and displacing the old-school mindset. This change welcomed Business Analysts to serve as a liaison between business and technology teams and help organizations to maximize the value of new technologies.

In the five years since this experience took place, advances in technological capability, such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI), have continued to accelerate, threatening the existence of many traditional roles. Yet amidst these technological shifts, people – and the soft skills they bring to Business Analysis – are becoming more essential.

Technology and the Fourth Industrial Revolution have redefined how Business Analysis is applied within an organization. The onset of cutting-edge technologies can leave executives baffled. Closing the gap between technological growth and adaptation speed can require a series of ongoing transformation initiatives. And this is where Business Analysis becomes particularly crucial. It can drive the industry’s appetite for new technology, enhance customer engagements, and uncover new opportunities to leverage technology for automation and innovation.

There is a false notion surrounding AI that the role of the Business Analyst will become obsolete. While it does have the potential to automate five percent of jobs globally, AI cannot succeed without the critical soft skills that Business Analysts bring: leadership, negotiation, and empathetic communication. The partnership between people and machines is powerful, as Business Analysts can take advantage of AI-powered chatbots to automate repetitive tasks, allowing people to focus on higher value tasks. And, with demand for skills such as emotional intelligence and decision-making predicted to grow in the next five years, the demand for Business Analysis alongside emerging technologies is expected to rise.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 53.5 million adults ages 18 to 34 fill one in three jobs in America, making Millennials the largest generation in the workforce. In a market where Millennials can be expected to claim a higher share of skilled roles over time, how can organizations acquire and retain the best Business Analysts to work alongside emerging automated technologies? Here are three ways:

  1. Prioritize upskilling and reskilling. With Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers passing the baton to Millennials in a volatile technology space, organizations will need to make significant investments in the areas of employee development, upskilling, and reskilling. By 2022, at least 54 percent of all employees will need reskilling and upskilling. Introduction of continuous learning and development programs are the key to preparing Business Analysts for activities like platform integration, regulatory and InfoSec issues, and business readiness and continuity planning – all of which are impacts of implementing novel technology. In the spirit of the popular movie Hidden Figures, in which protagonist Dorothy Vaughan teaches herself a new programming language to protect her role from replacement by computers in the 1950s, Business Analysts today should seek new skills that enable them to deliver unprecedented levels of value in working alongside technology.
  2. Make the wider organization BA-literate, acting as champions for the introduction of Business Analysis standards and best practices. Organizations that spread awareness around this critical skill will empower Business Analysts to guide their organizations through digital disruption and help them optimize emerging technologies like AI.
  3. Provide the right level of autonomy to Business Analysts by utilizing them as strategic partners. Business Analysts should be empowered with a strong understanding of their company’s strategy. The Business Analysts of tomorrow will need to play an active role in discussions that concern an organization’s long-term focus.

According to IBM, the number of jobs specialized in analytics is expected to increase from 364,000 to 2,720,000. Employers are identifying and acting upon the urgency for workforce upskilling, reskilling, and retention tactics. To improve overall skillset and maturity levels, executives should consider bringing onboard industry experts or Managed Services providers to coach Business Analysis communities. Additionally, Talent Management & Development strategy blueprints can help leaders navigate the unprecedented complexity of a workforce comprised of both people and machines. As technology-driven change continues to accelerate, Business Analysis—bolstered by the soft skills that only people can bring to the table—has never been more integral to the future of business.