21 September 2008

Non-technical BA

In the comments to this post, Andrew asked if there was still a place for a "non-technical" BA. I would suggest that "non-technical" is in the eye of the beholder.

My career has gone like this: programmer - database administrator - project manager - software engineering manager - business analyst. I suppose you would describe me as a "technical" BA. However, that doesn't always help in business process modeling. A lot of times you need someone familiar with the subject matter to get in and figure things out.

This is where I have to ask what do you mean by "technical"? An accountant who becomes a BA is still a subject matter expert (SME), but not a technology SME. Where is the line between technical and non-technical? Does technical have to mean IT or can it mean any area of expertise?

In this post Craig references an article about the Business Analyst vs. Enterprise Architect (EA) smackdown. The author makes an effort at identifying the differences between the two roles and quite frankly sounds to me much like the argument about a "technical" BA (the enterprise architect) vs. a "non-technical" (the business analyst) one. The article talks about how the two roles are complementary in their functions. The BA is primarily concerned with business value and business context while the EA is primarily concerned with defining the technology to use to solve a business problem. This view makes a lot of sense to me.

While it is relatively easy to be informed in multiple areas, it is difficult to be an expert in multiple disciplines. I see no reason a BA could not come from the business side of the company and work with an EA to find technology solutions to the problems being faced.

If you can’t have both a BA and an EA, the one you need in your team will depend on other factors such as business experience of the rest of the team, how specialized your industry is, and whether you have a good technical resource who can work with a business focused BA or not. Having said that, it is still my opinion that a BA should understand the technology that is available in order to understand how to maximize the business value of a solution.

As Craig mentioned in the comments to the first post, a business analyst should be focused on exactly what the title sounds like, the business. Whatever their second area of expertise is, they must primarily understand the business and the tools that support it.


  1. Anonymous5:12 am

    You've hit a few nails firmly on the head there Janet. One problem is that "Business Analyst" can mean anything from "Project Manager's gofer" to "Not quite an investment analyst" and a whole range of stuff in between.

    Perhaps we should be more role-specific. Would it help help focus our minds as well as other people's if we called ourselves "Project Analysts", "Process Analysts" or "Requirements Analysts" depending on what we were doing at the time?

  2. Good question, Ben. I think you may be right that the term "Business Analyst" doesn't really have a common meaning across companies.

    Maybe we're stuck in the same place as the high performance computing people are with the term "Cloud". There isn't one common definition yet.

  3. A taxonomy of business analysts!

  4. Anonymous7:55 am

    I can't imagine why I get accused of over-analysing things...