How a BA Makes a Great BA

The modern business analyst must be a master of people, processes and technology. Someone with a BA degree and/or a background in liberal arts is particularly well suited to this kind of challenge.

Confused by the headline? As with any abbreviation, a BA means different things to different people depending on your industry. I know of two: One is the Bachelor of Arts, the gold standard degree typically awarded through Liberal Arts University programs. Not coincidentally, this was my first university degree, which is one of the reasons it comes to mind. The second abbreviation is Business Analyst, a role I have become very familiar with in my five years working in a Software Company. The responsibilities of this role vary, but the general idea is that the Business Analyst is the person who connects the more technical side of projects (Technicians, Database Managers, Programmers and the like) to the End Users and Customers. These are key players in any modern technology operation.

A recent article on CIO traces the evolution of the Business Analyst role from more of a data-cruncher in the 1970’s and 1980’s to the modern wizard of business strategy, product development and communication that it is today. Since when did BA stand for bloomin’ amazing? does a great job tracing how business analysis has not only stepped out from the backroom Operations closet, it’s taken center stage in the maintenance and growth of the business by becoming “…experts in people, process and technology”. As the author puts it:

“The best BAs of 2017 are not solely business focused or solely IT focused, they are not experts in marketing or sales or IT processes, they have a helicopter view of the lot…”

David Cotereave, Professional Services Director at Stoneseed 

I have seen a lot of job announcements for Business Analysts within the tech sector that reference the applicants having degrees in Business, Information Systems or other technical backgrounds…applicants who would most likely have been awarded a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. I would like to propose that someone like myself who holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree would have several advantages in a Business Analyst (BA) position.

ScrabbleCommunication – If you are looking for someone who knows how to communicate across various modalities, a candidate with a BA degree will be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition for one reason: We’ve been weighed, measured and judged on it for far longer. The main differentiator between a BS and a BA degree is the amount of writing involved; BS programs rely more on building and conducting experiments or trials, with accompanying documentation produced as an afterthought. A BA degree on the other hand relies heavily on the quantity and quality of your research and writing: You aren’t conducting the experiments yourself, but you are researching them, aggregating the data and writing about them in a clear and persuasive manner. You are judged by your prose and writing skills, so those skills are laser sharp.

GlassesAnalysis – It’s not enough to write well to gain a BA degree; you have to write persuasively; you have to bring original thought to an idea, process or problem. Simply aggregating a bunch of study results and presenting those isn’t going to sway your professors or an evaluation panel if you advance to the Masters of Arts (MA) level as I did. You need to present an original point of view. In order to do that, candidates for the BA must get comfortable with analysis, data modeling and research. They need to find the chink in the armor, the gum in the works, the loophole in the system or the inefficiency that could be remedied. They need to sketch out what a solution to that issue would look like, how it would affect the system as a whole and build the business case or advocate for why the idea should be used.

GearsProcess – Add or take away something from a working system, and you are going to cause ripple effects across that system. In my experience, this is a challenge for the more technically-focused. Role out a new security procedure without adequate training, and it causes your help desk calls to spike because users don’t know how to navigate the process. To prevent these ripple effects, you need to keep the system in mind. Someone with a BA degree is adept at keeping track of the ripple effects and connections across diverse areas, because those connections, the moving parts and their inner workings are what they study. Their studies are of the comprehensive system as a whole…not just pieces. This is why many people I know with liberal arts backgrounds have such strong business acumen; a business is a system, and we are experts in all of the ins and outs of a system.

Any system or technical skills can be taught, whether it is technology or finance or chemistry. When I started at a SAAS company and secure data center in the FinTech sector, I had no previous experience in these areas. Now, five years on, not only have I become an expert in lending and lending operations (unarguably the most complex and important area within any finance or banking business), I’ve gained knowledge and expertise in technological areas including cybersecurity, data management, software QA and testing, product development and technology business intelligence. I’ve worked hand in hand with BA’s at my company in design, development and deployment of tech enhancements and solutions, while the training and Operational Audit side of my position keeps me connected with the end users and their needs. I’ve learned the technical skills I needed, which was far easier than trying to teach someone with technical chops how to make the connections and have the flexibility, analysis, strategic and powerhouse communication skills to be a good Business Analyst.

Leverage diversity of experience and skills together in a team, and you will create the engine that will power your business into the future!



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