Do Business Analysts need technical expertise to be an excellent Business Analyst?

This is a topic that was recently raised and discussed in the IIBA’s Linkedin Group. As I read my way through the case for and against whether a BA should have technical expertise I started to doubt my own answer.

At university I studied Information Systems Engineering, so while I did’t study any programming languages I did study a range of modelling techniques and use a number of technical tools. I put the discussion out of my head until a few days later when, unlike me, I undertook some plumbing at home!

My objective was to plumb my washer dryer into my downstairs bathroom to make a utility room. While I lacked the plumbing skills I knew what I needed to be done and I was able to communicate this vision to others. I wanted to:

  • Get cold water into my washer dryer
  • Get waste water out of the washer dryer and into the drain
  • Get power to the washer dryer

I was reminded of many of the systems I have helped clients define requirements for. They too had similar requirements:

  • There was some data that had to get into the system
  • Once the data was in some processing had to take place
  • After the processing had taken place reports/exports had to come out of the system
  • And the system needed an infrastructure that would keep it working
Systems Integration
Systems Integration!

The flow of data into a system is not that much different to that of water flowing into a washer dryer. I’m not a plumber but I knew that this will involve pipework from an existing water supply. I found myself drawing systems architecture diagrams of how the systems would communicate, my water pipe would need a new tap (an API) and piping of the right format would be needed to help the water flow, just like that of a webservice.

I could really take this much further – and you’ll be glad to know that I won’t today, but it made me realise that a BA doesn’t need to be a developer. What is important is to be able to have aptitude to understand the big picture of what is trying to be achieved and to visualise a workflow. It’s then important to be able to communicate this to someone else, so that they can do the implementation – in my case a plumber!

Update: Last week my wife and I had our first little boy and this taught me something else about systems implementation – The ROI of a good system is often time and efficiency… or in our case – sleep!

One thought on “Do Business Analysts need technical expertise to be an excellent Business Analyst?”

  1. Great post James. I am also a akin to you in education background; although I have done a lot of programming as well. 🙂

    I liked your analogy and an API (clever), this is the kind of thinking I sometimes indulge in myself. I personally think technical skills has its own importance depending on the kind of project a BA is working in. If a BA possess technical skills they can definitely come in handy when needed, does that make him/her an excellent BA? The answer really depends on the context of the project, and how good the BA has really understood what business wants, and communicated it effectively to his/her team… technical skills can in this case be like the icing on the cake.

    Just some thoughts! 🙂

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