The term business analyst (BA) may refer to a variety of different careers. There may be a lot of jargon employed within this profession but the fundamentals of this career will normally include some or all of the following: meeting with clients, scoping and modelling a project or element of the business, and presenting results to client.
The scope of business and range of employers of business analysts is as wide as business itself. It is possible to work for both independent firms who are commissioned to work on specific projects and provide an opinion from an outside perspective, or within a particular business or industry e.g. energy or transport. The term business analyst has become synonymous with IT specialists, however, the scope of the job is wider than this. Several elements common to the role are
- identify areas for improvement
- evaluate problems and opportunities within the business
- through the use of modelling and scenario analysis evaluate the feasibility of a solution and possible outcomes
- present the solution and develop the business case for implementing it
- monitor the continued need for and success of the solution and adapt as necessary
Business Analysts are expected to be constructive and critical and provide analysis of both the micro elements of a business i.e. staff turnover, marketing success, sales figures and macro elements i.e. the bigger picture of where the business sits within the industry as a whole. By doing these things they are expected to add value, increase efficiency, drive changes in the architecture of the business and assess the viability of new projects.
While not exhaustive, a Business Analyst would be expected to be responsible for
- Client relationships – maintaining an active relationship with the client.
- Time Management – normally projects will have a deadline but management of the project is normally the analyst’s responsibility.
- Model building – taking account of changes in parameters e.g. changes in interest rates or sales and building them into your models.
- Billing and Fees – charging time appropriately and setting budgets with clients.
- General demeanour – helpful, co-operative and thinking through a problem.
- Communication – developing ideas and presenting them to management and producing focused reports to a high standard.
There are no formal qualifications required to perform this career although education to degree level is the norm.
Skills developed in other professions and a detailed knowledge of the industry can prove vital and previous careers that have involved modelling work e.g. actuarial science may prove useful. Increasingly Business Analysis is becoming synonymous with systems engineering, which is technical and IT driven. Consequently a programming and IT background can be beneficial for certain areas.
In order to provide recognition several key bodies have emerged:
The International Institute of Business Analysts
offers the Certified Business Analysis Professional™ (CBAP®). This qualification is awarded by the IIBA to candidates who have successfully demonstrated their expertise in this field. This is done by detailing hands-on work experience in business analysis through the CBAP® application process, and passing the IIBA CBAP® examination.
The Information Systems Examination Board
offers a wide range of qualifications but of particular interest may be their Diploma in Business Analysis which provides a foundation in core business analytic skills.
Work will normally be done in an office environment. IT specialist business analysis (systems and requirements engineering) will be particularly computer based. The work is often project based with analysis of a certain area and this can mean that as a deadline approaches hours can be very long. The project-based nature of the job can mean that a business analyst focuses on a particular project for an extended period. This may be as short as a couple of weeks for minor projects or up to 2 years for major analysis or changes to the business model e.g merger & acquisition implementation or buyout analysis.
For the less IT dominated side the first stages will normally entail spending time with the management of a company and assessing their current systems and areas for improvement. This will define the scope of the project and will often be onsite and require good access to management and accounts. A period in the office, building and running models will then be common before presenting the proposed solution or range of solutions to the client. In this role an ability to travel and spend extended periods away from home can be necessary.
Base salaries for new entrants are normally around £25,000 -£45,000 depending upon industry and experience. The move into management consultancy – a somewhat natural progression – can increase salaries significantly and with reasonable experience it is possible to earn in excess of £100,000 plus bonuses.
Consultancy work can be both on a self-employed or employed basis. Most of the big firms offer comprehensive benefits packages including pension contributions, death in service cover and private medical care.
The list below is somewhat intimidating but most businesses will assist and pay for you to develop these skills and provide the necessary training. As with most jobs commitment, thought and a desire to learn are thus paramount.
As the name attests, being able to analyse a situation and present a solution is key. Excellent attention to detail, the ability to monitor profit and risk outcomes and reporting and presentation skills are important.
Technical skills can be very important within this profession. Having a knowledge of programming and statistical modelling techniques (Matlab and Visual Basic) and financial statement analysis will be advantageous.
Understanding the business and having a wide appreciation of the business environment are imperative. Being able to learn about a business quickly and filter information is also important.
Business analysts will need good communication skills and may need to present technical information. Tact is very important as evaluating a business can involve criticism of current practices and staff. Evaluating a client’s needs and working well with people are important. Problem solving ability is a must. A client-facing analyst will need to be presentable and smartly dressed. There is a distinction between project managers and business analysts and some business analysts may be desk based and not need all of these skills.
While it is possible to go into the IT side post A-Level (or equivalent) most of the major employers will expect education at degree level or higher and it is not uncommon to have achieved an MA or MSc. Experience of programming or modelling work is important although not essential. Having a background in a particular industry can prove beneficial.
Most jobs are within big consultancy firms. However, almost all large firms will have business analysts in one form or another.
Consulting and Management Consultant firms
e.g. L.E.K Consulting, Mercer, AON, Watson Wyatt, Guy Carpenter, Oliver Wyman, Hewitt, Mckinsey & Company, Accenture, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and KMPG.
Management Consultants and Project Managers often work hand in hand with business analysts to meet clients’ needs. Successful roles in a range of IT careers are also common. There is an increasing trend for Private Equity houses to employ business analysts for their modelling skills. The rewards achievable in this profession can be exceptional but job security is limited and hours very long.
Also known as…
- Data Analyst
- Systems Analyst
- Requirement Engineer
What’s it really like?
James Cameron, 26 years old is a Business Analyst working for Mercer Ltd.
How long have you been in this particular job / industry?
I’ve been working as an analyst since January 2008. I’m based at offices in London although Mercer is a global firm.
What did you do before this job?
I worked in finance before this job, working as an IFA.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
At the minute I’m studying for exams so my day normally starts around 6am so I can do at least an hour’s study before work. When I get to my desk (8:30am) the first thing I do is check my e-mail and respond to anything pressing. This normally takes around 30 minutes. On a Monday morning I have a capacity meeting with my team. We all have a range of clients we work on and if anyone is stretched work can thus be spread out. Most of my clients have quite similar needs but the scale and aspects of each project differ greatly.
Over 90% of my job is desk based and I use Excel a lot to build models and perform strategy work. We have a variety of tools that we use which are ‘stochastic’ i.e. model the probability of a particular outcome from a particular set of variables. I specialize in what is called Asset Liability Modelling (ALM) which relates to pension funds, although this is just one area of the job. I normally spend a lot of my day tinkering with models. Once all the groundwork is done it’s simply a matter of writing a report to the client and working on slides through Powerpoint for one of the consultants to meet with the client and advise them.
There is a lot of general work such as strategy modelling and implementation as well as more ad hoc projects. We’re often commissioned by clients to work on specific projects and there can be a lot of research and contacting relevant product providers before writing a paper proposing our advice/ recommendation on a particular problem. I’ll normally leave the office around 6-7p.m although during busy periods of the year this has been as late as 11p.m.
What do you like about the job?
The job is highly research based and you’re given a lot of flexibility to think ‘creatively’. That doesn’t mean that you always get it right though and you need to be able to accept criticism.
What do you dislike about the job?
Some of the work can be pretty mundane and repetitive. There is a lot of information to sift through and attention to detail is a must. I spend a lot of time checking other people’s work which can be quite exhausting.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
The money in this job can be very good and there is a wide range of projects you can get involved in. The industry can be quite competitive and your peers are normally very bright so make sure that you are ambitious and keen to learn. Being Excel savvy is a must.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role (i.e. career progression)?
I’m not sure at this stage.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
This is a very desk based career. There is a lot of scope for client contact as you progress but you need to make sure that you’re happy being in front of your desk for a good 10 hours a day when you first start.
Do you mind us publishing your salary – this is very helpful for job seekers?
My work won’t let me but it’s certainly above the national average!