From techie to suit

Local IT companies look for business analysts

To those in the local information technology sector, it is no secret that many Middle Tennessee-based IT companies are looking to hire business analysts.

But they made need some luck and patience.  

“The need we have in Middle Tennessee is driven by the number of companies who want business analysts, want more of them, or now realize they need them,” says Liza Lowery Massey, president and chief executive officer of the Nashville Technology Council. 

“The [business analyst] category has been the most sought after position in Middle Tennessee since the first quarter of 2012,” she adds.

Massey says business analysts are important regardless of industry but they most often function related to IT implementation and upgrades.

“A company can outsource the analysis work but not as easily as it can other functions, such as programming and tech support, because an analyst needs to thoroughly understand the business and help translate that understanding — plus the business needs — into procurement, development, deployment, training and use, of technology,” she says.

Greg Garner, a business systems consultant with Bridgestone,who serves as president of the local chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis, says many local companies lack business analysts for various reasons, including salaries that might not be as competitive as is the case in other cities. He cites two key reasons.

First, company executives tend to find solutions in what Garner calls “fire jumpers” — that is, programmers who take a Jack-of-all trades approach to technology solutions.

“These individuals may or may not have good skills as analysts, but they tend to make things happen for technology so they get listened to,” he says.

Secondly, Garner says most executives come from sales or finance, and not IT, backgrounds.

“They are used to buying their way out of problems and issues,” he says. “Most executives don't make personal friends with the ‘geek types’ as they are somewhat abrasive and don't run in typical MBA-type social circles. As a result, executives tend to place in CIO, CTO and other IT leadership positions managers that they trust that have the same background and social circles as they do. They may be former military officers or health care managers. As a result, you have a severe shortage of IT best practice understanding.”

Garner says there are different types of analysts. These include the business analyst (“an ideator who helps model vision, goals and objectives”); the functional analyst (who is typically similar to a business analyst but has a different role in that she or he translates the business need into a functional need); the data analyst (the same as a functional analyst but specializing in data); the financial analyst; and the marketing analyst  (who undertakes, for example, sales opportunity identification).

“Nos. 1 and 2 are more generalist and able to work in any vertical,” Garner says. “All others need vertical specialized knowledge.”

Garner says the main job of an analyst is to “create order out of chaos of competing needs.”  

“They use a defined methodology to identify and define problems and then model and help the business understand the current situation so that there is no ambiguity,” he says. “And they facilitate the discussion with the technical ‘do-ers’ to present solution alternatives in a way that everyone can understand and digest. Finally they facilitate the implementation of the solution.”

The Nashville Technology Council’s Massey says the business analyst can best achieve that facilitation through translation.

“Business analysts are translators for more than just techies to suits,” Massey says. “They have to talk to all levels within the organization, translate among them, and be the bridge to the providers of technology solutions including development staff.”