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What Is a Business Analyst?

Mary Gormandy White
Business analyst

A business analyst focuses on helping businesses improve. They look at every aspect of an operation, from the organization's long- and short-term goals to its organizational chart, processes, procedures, key metrics, and more - all with the intent of identifying areas where changes can be made (often technology-based) to improve overall organizational health.

Business Analyst Functions

According to Villanova University, business analysts provide a "vital link between a firm's information technology capabilities and its business objectives." They fill the important role of identifying ways an organization can maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

BAs serve as researchers, solution providers, and agents of change. They help companies implement technology solutions in a cost-effective way by determining the requirements of a project or program and communicating them clearly to stakeholders, facilitators, and partners.

Business Analyst Roles

There are different types of business analyst (BA) roles. According to the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) IIBA, examples include (but are not limited to) positions like:

  • Business requirements analyst - People who do this type of business analysis work focus on helping the organization meets its goals. They analyze processes, procedures, and other aspects of operations in order to be able to make recommendations on how technology can be leveraged to improve how things are done. A college education is beneficial to pursue work in this aspect of the field, though significant experience and a successful track record in business, project management, and/or technology can also be helpful.
  • Business systems analyst - Individuals who specialize in this type of business analysis focus on implementing information technology (IT) solutions that match the unique needs of the business. They may be involved in procuring and/or developing these systems. They need to be knowledgeable about the business as well as have technical expertise. People who work in this aspect of the field often have a number of professional IT certifications. Many have degrees or have completed technical training programs.
  • Functional business analyst - Those who work as functional business analysts develop expertise to a specific technology-based solution and focus on how organizations can best use that particular product. They will help maximize integration of the product into the organization's other systems and business processes to help ensure maximum benefit is being gleaned per the company's needs.

Business Analyst Certification

There isn't just one path to becoming a business analyst (BA), as the field is a relatively young one. There are degree and certificate programs that can be helpful for entering the profession, but they aren't always required. What is required is expertise in business functions and how technology and other interventions can improve organizational health.

Earning a certification is a great way to gain a credential that demonstrates your knowledge and experience in the field. There are a few different options for BA certification.

  • PMI Professional in Business Analysis® (PMI-PBA) - This Project Management Institute (PMI) certification is intended for those who work with "project teams and manage requirements or product development" or who work as "a project or program manager who performs business analysis in your role." In order to be eligible to take the 200-question certification exam, you must complete 35 contact hours of study specific to business analysis, spend 2,000 hours on a project team, and have 7,500 hours of BA experience if you don't have a degree and 4,500 hours if you do.
  • IQBBA Business Analyst Certification - This International Qualification Board for Business Analysts (IQBBA) certification "is suitable for business and system analysts, requirements engineers, product owners and product managers." It includes a 40-question foundation level certification that requires at least a basic proficiency in "solution concept, design or development," as well as a series of five advanced exams with between 40 and 65 questions each.
  • IIBA Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) - Individuals who have more than 7,500 hours of BA experience gained within the last decade and who complete at least 35 contact hours of training in the field can sit for the 120-question CPAP certification exam. Personal references and agreement to comply with the CPAP code of conduct are also required. This is the highest level credential. IIBA also offers an entry certificate and a certification of capability for those at earlier career stages.

Organizational Improvement

When companies are looking for ways to improve and gain competitive advantage, they often turn to a business analyst. Some companies, particularly those committed to continuous improvement, have full-time staff members dedicated to BA work. Others bring in external consultants to perform these services.

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What Is a Business Analyst?