Largely due to the fact that it is a complex role with a lengthy formal definition, the role of business analyst tends to be poorly understood. Basically, a business analyst is a liaison between the IT department and their internal customers. In other words, they are the individual who understands enough about IT and enough about the rest of the business that they can effectively serve as a go-between. Their role is to make sure everyone is on the same page and a project actually serves the intended business need, in spite of people inside and outside of the IT department not fundamentally understanding each other's work.
For some companies, hiring a business analyst may not be necessary. But there are some situations in which hiring one is the best option.
You Need to Improve Your ROI on IT Projects
Your company is coming up with the solutions it needs to the business problems it has, but these solutions are just not cost effective. When business solutions cost more than they are worth or are only turning a very small profit, it simply does not make business sense. This is a good time to bring a business analyst on board. Overseeing the project and making sure it is cost effective is part of their duties. If your return on investment (ROI) is bad enough, employing an analyst may easily more than cover the cost of hiring them.
Your IT Projects Are Failing to Meet Deadlines
Reducing waste and keeping projects on schedule is another part of what a business analyst does. From conception to testing, analysts are involved in every stage of the project. They keep an eye out for subtle problems, like feature creep, that can derail the process and cause deadlines to be repeatedly missed, thereby causing the project to incur additional expenses and opportunity costs. They bring important soft and hard skills to the table that help guide projects to come in on budget and on time. This project is their baby, so babysitting it and making sure it hits important milestones on time is just a part of the job.
You Have Agreed on a Big Change, Someone Needs to Guide it
When it is clear the company needs to substantially change a process and that process has been agreed upon, it is common to hire a business analyst to guide it. The analyst plays a diplomatic role, communicating with all involved parties to make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible and the outcome is as effective as possible. Having one person mediate between all stakeholders reduces friction and prevents the desired change from being bogged down by office politics or excess bias.
Your Non-IT Business is IT Heavy
Some businesses are not at all part of the IT world, yet they have become heavily dependent on IT infrastructure. The industry may have existed well before the Information Age, but computerized systems gave forever changed it. This is the kind of small business insurance has: Because the industry is complex, highly regulated, and drowning in information, your typical insurance company has many databases and a great deal of information technology. In this day and age, this is necessary to do the job at all. Thus, insurance companies tend to have a lot of business analysts. In fact, it is a growth job role in some parts of the world. If your industry is similarly information intensive, you likely need one or more analysts to make things work.
Information Technology has transformed business. It has made things possible that were simply unimaginable a few short years ago. But the reality is that the IT professionals who make the technology work are often ill equipped to understand the business processes they serve. Given the rate at which domains of expertise are multiplying, it simply is not realistic to expect them to do both. It is enough of a challenge to simply keep up with the technology end of things. Business analysts are the people who know enough about the technology and the business to keep both sides of the equation in balance. This creates synergies such that the total is more than the sum of the parts.
Lindsey Patterson is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who specializes in business technology, customer relationship management, and lead management. She also writes about the latest social trends, specifically involving social media.