Tech hotshots: The rise of the IT business analyst

The once lowly business analyst is suddenly in high demand. Here's how to work well with the ones you've got.

IT business analyst

The hottest job in IT right now might be the least "T" of them all: business analyst.

Tech purists may shudder -- is it the revenge of the suits? -- but 23% of the IT executive respondents to Computerworld's Forecast 2012 survey said they planned to hire for business analytics skills in the next 12 months, up from 13% in the previous year's survey.

"IT business analyst" was also rated one of the country's top 12 jobs to pursue last year by Money Magazine, which listed median pay for that position at $83,100. Computerworld's Salary Survey 2012 listed an average total compensation for IT technology/business system analysts at $84,376, up 1.4% from 2011.

While pure tech is hardly in decline -- database administrators, programmers and Web developers also made the Money list -- business analysts are being viewed by more and more IT shops, and the corporation at large, as an essential function. "It's one of the most critical roles in the info tech space," says Allen Hackman, senior director of information technology at Tyco International's Fire and Security unit.

The rise of the business analyst mirrors changes in the world of IT, says Hackman, who asserts that the popularity of software as a service, and the commoditization of technology in general, has made business analysts more important. "You don't need IT to implement Salesforce.com," he notes. "But how do I apply it, how do I meet my business need, how do I get people to use it? That's the role the business analyst fulfills."

IT departments can have good database analysts and developers, Hackman says, but fail without good business analysts on board or at least accessible. "The make-or-break part of a corporate IT department is really the business analyst. It starts with them and ends with them," he says.

Given this, he says, CIOs and other IT managers have to shift their mindset about business analysts. "The old view of the analyst was someone junior, who would take notes and take a detailed order of the business, build a bill of materials for a project to bill out," says Mark P. McDonald, an analyst at Gartner. Now, the business analyst has "been transformed into a senior problem-solver," he says.

What's changed since the days of the junior note-taker? McDonald points to three shifts:

  • Organizations face more complex issues, with IT expected to help the business side weave together multiple kinds of technology to solve those business challenges.
  • IT is becoming more commoditized and more outsourced, and as it does so, its main value to the organization becomes analytic rather than procedural. With the easy value from technology already achieved, IT now needs to show the business it can leverage technology for ever more strategic uses, thereby elevating the role of the business analyst.
  • Unlike the rest of IT, business analysts are directly assigned to business units, even if they still report to IT. Analysts, therefore, are often viewed as the premier source of IT expertise within the organization and are typically expected to have the communications and social skills that go along with that responsibility, McDonald says.

As a result, Hackman agrees, business analysts are enjoying a certain kind of job demand, as well as security -- unusual in IT today. "You can't outsource knowledge and strategy and critical thinking," he says.

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