“Shaken, not stirred,” James Bond clarifies as he orders a cocktail. Similarly, business and systems analysts may seem closely related, but they play distinct and complementary parts in the IT landscape. Polina Zhlukta, System Analyst, and Raman Stankevich, Product Owner at SOFTSWISS, explain in simple terms the differences between these professions and their respective expectations.
How Are the Two Similar and How Are They Different?
Both business and system analysts work on the same projects but focus on different aspects. The business analyst articulates business goals and requirements, defining problems, growth points, and formulating business tasks. On the other hand, the system analyst delves into technical solutions with sufficient depth and understanding.
Sometimes these roles are performed by one specialist. In small projects involving 2-7 developers, it may be feasible for a product manager to take on the system analyst’s responsibilities since they are well-immersed in the product. However, if in large and complex projects, where role merging is caused by staffing constraints, it becomes a kludge. In such cases, either the alignment with business tasks or the technical solution might suffer.
Analysts, when engaged correctly in the development of IT products, are indispensable and valuable links in a chain. Imagine this chain as four interconnected rings: BUSINESS – BUSINESS ANALYST – SYSTEM ANALYST – TECHNICAL SOLUTION. While other specialists are involved in development, this connection between the customer and the solution is essential.
Analysts are like professional ‘translators’ bridging communication gaps. The customer speaks the language of business, and ‘techies’ communicate in code. Analysts, being fluent in both languages, should thoroughly understand other dialects as well.
Now, let’s delve deeper into the specifics of these professions.
Exploring the Competencies of a Business Analyst
The business analyst enters the project at its initial stage, often assisting the customer in formulating the problem, identifying root causes, and proposing solutions. Subsequently, they define the business goals to be achieved as a result of the project or its specific iteration.
In essence, a business analyst is a versatile specialist who can immerse themselves fully in the specifics of various industries, such as logistics, e-commerce, and even a medtech startup.
Presented below is an outline detailing the comprehensive framework that defines the role of this specialist:
- Understanding customer business needs and requirements
- Identifying effective solutions to address challenges
- Formulating comprehensive business requirements for future technical solutions
- Collaborating with clients, systems analysts, and development team to align interests and requests with appropriate technologies and capabilities
Consider a scenario involving a SaaS product where customers eagerly embrace a trial period, resulting in an expanding user base. However, the conversion rate to paying customers remains disappointingly low. At the culmination of the trial phase, users repeatedly generate new free accounts, perpetuating a cycle of non-payment. What actions can a business analyst undertake here?
Firstly, conduct a market analysis to determine the optimal pricing for the product. While achieving a noteworthy Daily Active Users (DAU), Weekly Active Users (WAU), and Monthly Active Users (MAU) metric exceeding 50% is commendable, only a fraction of users convert due to the product’s high cost. Hypothesis: enhancing volume-based revenue potential by reducing the price may be beneficial. Exploring the incorporation of more affordable subscription tiers could incentivise customers to upgrade from basic plans, akin to employing ‘carrot and stick’ tactics.
Secondly, propose marketing strategies encompassing personalised experiences, retargeting initiatives, and in-app messaging.
Thirdly, suggest implementing technical safeguards to restrict repetitive free registrations. The specifics of implementing such safeguards will be determined by the system analyst, a collaborating colleague.
Essential Skills for a Business Analyst:
- In-depth project exploration, questioning initial customer visions
- Identifying business issues, potential solutions, and growth opportunities
- Effective negotiation skills and strong empathy
- Defining software requirements for both business and users
- Understanding the software development cycle and aligning desires with feasibility
Exploring the Competencies of a System Analyst
The role of the systems analyst seamlessly extends from that of the business analyst. Its primary objective lies in bridging business needs with technical solutions. In essence, this involves translating concepts from the realm of conversion rates, Lifetime Value (LTV), and Click-Through Rates (CTR) to the domains of Quality Assurance (QA), User Experience (UX), and code development. As with any translation, preserving the core essence is paramount.
System Analysts Are Vital for Projects With:
- Numerous integrations and complex system components
- Evolving business needs requiring agile responses
- Large, interdisciplinary teams collaborating on development
The System Analyst’s Workflow Entails the Following Stages:
- Analysing business objectives outlined by the business analyst
- Breaking down requirements from the business analyst into functional and non-functional components
- Recommending appropriate technologies and architectural approaches for development
- Defining development tasks and evaluating solution compliance with project specifications
Continuing with the SaaS product case, where conversion of trial users to paying customers is problematic, the systems analyst receives general specifications from the business analyst. Taking into account technical constraints, budget, and timelines, the analyst selects optimal implementation strategies.
Potential conflicts with the business analyst’s preferences may arise and, in such cases, internal discussions ensue, involving customers if necessary. This collaborative process aims to efficiently solve the problem rather than simply writing code.
Suppose the chosen solutions involve marketing personalisation and technical registration restrictions. The systems analyst would further elaborate on these by refining CRM procedures, enhancing web analytics, and implementing SMS confirmations and IP restrictions. These requirements are then communicated in a clear and coherent Technical Objectives Document (TOR) for the project manager and development team.
Essential Skills for a Systems Analyst:
- Proficiency in various software development approaches and architectural patterns
- Ability to translate business concepts into technical terms effectively
- Expertise in creating comprehensive technical specifications for the development and modernization of technical solutions
- Strong grasp of system analysis techniques and software security practices
- Familiarity with SQL and its practical application in database and DBMS environments
- Knowledge of different application integration styles, including message broker principles, APIs, and buses
- Proficiency in using CASE tools such as UML and BPMN
Key Differences Between These Positions
A business analyst (BA) identifies and defines stakeholder requirements, delves into customer business processes, and collaborates to formulate tasks. They analyse and communicate these tasks to all parties involved.
A systems analyst (SA) elaborates on these tasks at a technical level, detailing system requirements and contributing to the design of the future product. They provide insights on how to execute tasks, aligning business needs with technical capabilities while overseeing project progress.
BAs and SAs are often mistaken for one another due to their collaboration on projects, yet they address distinct aspects of problem-solving for clients. The boundary between their roles can blur as they operate at the intersection of the two domains.
The T-shaped skills approach can further contribute to role ambiguity, as it involves training versatile professionals with knowledge from related fields. Moreover, other IT roles, such as those involving business processes, data, UX, security, finance, and web, also include the ‘analyst’ title. Occasionally, a product manager may even be referred to as a product analyst. However, these roles remain distinct.
Comparing this situation to others, it’s akin to saying, “Repair my slow cooker, you’re a programmer!” or “Negotiate with customers and ascertain their needs, you’re a systems analyst!” These comparisons emphasise the unique skill sets of different professionals.
Both business and systems analysts are integral to the IT landscape. It’s important not to delegate their responsibilities to other specialists or consolidate them into one role.
While a multi-skilled analyst can initially be highly effective, burnout and turnover often follow. This serves as a cautionary note to job seekers and employers alike: universal specialists are rare. Just as one wouldn’t seek a Ruby developer and a UI/UX designer in a single individual, the same applies here.