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7 April 2010

The BA and their Phone


This picture, taken on my wedding day, says a lot about me. Yes, I am addicted to my iPhone. No, I don't see that as a problem. In fact, I think that my obsession is actually a very good thing, especially when it relates to my job.

So, how does an iPhone translate into making someone a better business analyst, you ask? I'm so glad you asked because there are so many answers to this question!

(Note that while this article is iPhone focused because that is the device I own, any sufficiently advanced mobile phone such as a BlackBerry, Android or WebOS device should allow you to do most of the same tasks.)

Planning Functions

These are the 'no brainer' ways in which an iPhone can help you be a better analyst. You've got your email, phone and a calendar right inside your pocket. True, a BlackBerry can do these things equally as well (some would say better, but that is a matter of opinion), but these are just the basics that you need.

Beyond the basics, you've got a lot more options. The iTunes App store has a whole list of Getting Things Done applications available for free and for purchase. Some of these apps will allow you to sync your to-do lists with your computer and even view your lists in a web browser. Never again will you forget an action item or task (provided you remember to open the app of course!) If you're cheap like me, you can even use the built-in Notes application to jot down a reminder for later.

Do you travel a lot as an analyst? The Google Maps application is great for helping you find that one building that is located in rural Nowhere, Kentucky, but travel doesn't end with mapping! There are applications which can take your email confirmation from major travel websites, break it out and provide you with an itinerary for every step you take. There are applications which will help you find a good restaurant where you can take a stakeholder out for lunch.

Requirements Elicitation

The built-in Voice Memos application gives you an easy way to record requirements as stated by your stakeholders. The built-in microphone isn't the greatest, but having the recorded memos sync'd back to your computer for easy review and transcription is incredibly helpful. If the controls on Voice Memos do not meet your needs, there are numerous more powerful applications that exist in the App Store that will likely meet your needs.

What happens when you're in a discussion with a group of stakeholders and two of them can not agree on a particular fact? If you have an iPhone, the answer is easy... look it up! There are lots of search applications out there for use from Google, Wikipedia and others. If you don't want an app, you can always use Mobile Safari and search through it. Never before has it been easier to quickly find information relevant to you than it is today.

What if your stakeholders are having a tough time understanding a concept you are attempting to relate to them, or they would like to see a visual of some process or system you are describing to them. There are many apps that use your touchscreen as a drawing pad, allowing you to show the stakeholder exactly what your idea is if you don't have a whiteboard or pencil handy. This works especially well during those conversations where you're in an elevator with someone for a minute or two and they ask you a 'quick question'.

One thing I've started to do in recent months is using a service called Dropbox. The application installs on your computer and allows you to securely store files in an online fileshare. You can then give other people access to view or update specific files and folders stored in the cloud. This company also has an iPhone app. As I moved to different PCs, I found it easy to keep all my documents stored in my Dropbox. If I went to a meeting without my laptop, I still had my iPhone to use in case I needed to refer back to any documentation.

Professional Development

For those of us who are IIBA or PMI members have access to PDF versions of our respective Body of Knowledge documents (BABOK and PMBOK). We can place these files in our Dropbox and then review them whenever we have a minute of free time or if we find ourselves in need of a specific answer for a specific situation.

The Kindle app, and the new iBooks app from Apple, will allow anyone to download books to their device. This is a great thing for those of us who have a long commute or are frequent fliers.

We can not discount how simply using an advanced device such as an iPhone enhances our thinking about technology and process. Think about what we had to do to perform a Google search on our phones before the iPhone came along and compare that with how easy of a process it is now. By simply using one of these devices on a regular basis, we are keeping our skills and knowledge up to date.

By being so knowledgeable about our new phone, our stakeholders are also more likely to look on us as progressive individuals who embrace and can articulate the ways in which technology can enhance our lives. This can be a credibility boost to us in general when our stakeholders see that we understand the impact technology has in a general way and that we can apply that understanding to our stakeholder's specific situations.

So those are my ways about how having an iPhone can improve a BA. What about you? Are there ways I did not mention that you have found to use mobile technology in your work life?