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DCE Magazine

So What Exactly Does a Business Analyst Do?

Spring 2018

DCE's revised certificate program is aimed at first-timers and seasoned pros.

Kevin Watson is an expert on the subject of business analysis. He's assumed this crucial role at leading healthcare and IT companies, taught courses for UCI's Division of Continuing Education and, as advisory committee member, helped revise and update its Business Analyst certificate program.

Most people, however, find it rather mysterious. What exactly does a BA do? The business part is straightforward enough, but what do they analyze? Turns out there's no mystery at all. Most everyone has a bit of a BA in them while simply managing their day-to-day lives, Watson said.

“The core of business analysis is gathering the requirements used to choose or develop a solution, whether a new business process or a technical, software solution,” he said. “But if you think of the second word, analysis, we do that part every day. Even something like determining what's going to be dinner for the family requires analyzing mood, funds, and time. It's gathering requirements and determining a solution.”

Buying a car is a great example, Watson said. Before hitting the dealerships most car shoppers determine exactly what they require from a vehicle: speed, appearance, cargo space, safety features and more. First they identify requirements, then work to find the perfect model — the solution.

“My wife and I recently went through this experience,” he said. “I had a spreadsheet with the rows signifying the aspects we were looking for and the criteria for the test drive, and the columns were the makes and models.”

It's a process generally similar to Watson's position as Global Integration Manager at Kronos, a human-capital management and workforce management solution provider. “The difference is when you add back in ‘business,’ which now puts the focus on an organization or company.”

So the role of a BA isn't so mysterious after all. With expert instruction, most anyone can adapt this skill set to succeed in a business setting — career changers, current professionals, or total newbies. And the DCE's new online Business Analysis certificate program is an excellent entry point.

“The revised program is for all of the above,” Watson said. “It's a great way to launch a career as a BA, or just brush up on the latest trends and techniques.”

Looking to the future

With fast-evolving technology and shifting business models reshaping the global economy, the role of business analyst — and the way it's being taught to a new generation — needs to adapt to changing times. That's exactly what Watson and three other advisory committee members set out to accomplish with the new certificate program.

“We are always looking at ways to keep the course materials relevant while meeting the needs of experienced business professionals and those new to the BA field,” Watson said. “The revised program offers a more holistic view of the BA role, including assignments similar to those they will encounter in real life.”

A key objective was to blend the guidelines of the International Institute of Business Analysis™ (IIBA®), the longtime governing body of the field, with those of the increasingly relevant Project Management Institute (PMI®). Previously, the DCE program, like most others, was based entirely on the IIBA's A Guide to Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK® Guide).

But while the recently revised BABOK® sets the standard techniques required of business analysts, the PMI® takes a more flexible approach that has recently been incorporated into university curricula. So Watson and the others felt an update was due in order to maintain the DCE program's leading edge status.

“Our job is to make sure the student has the best information available, and this new program combines information from both governing bodies with real-world instructor and advisory committee experience,” Watson said. “This new holistic approach allows students to focus on a primary project and all that it entails across all four courses in the program.”

Analyzing a virtual company

Much of the curriculum is driven by a website designed to represent a realistic-but-fake healthcare company. Each student picks a single project from the website that they focus on throughout the program, creating a unified, hands-on concept that flows seamlessly throughout all aspects of business analysis.

“First thing they do is log onto the website and choose among three projects involving staff payroll, a patient payment portal, and patients’ data,” Watson said. “We tried to come up with projects that students could relate to — real-world projects they'd face as business analysts. They have to play the role of a BA and come up with requirements and solutions during the program's progression.”

The revised Business Analysis program also offers a fast-track option that allows students to complete their certificate in a much shorter time frame. “The new program is more condensed, four 10-week courses that can be completed in one year or six months if you double up on classes,” Watson said. “The old program would take from one to two years.”

Watson and the advisory committee also designed the program to be more interactive and collaborative. Instead of having students work on projects entirely on their own time, in an asynchronous manner, the revamp strives for live sessions and voiceovers. Discussion forums also are used so students can share knowledge and even learn from one another.

The real-world feel of the program gives students a real sense of the role of business analyst, a considerable benefit for those looking to jump in with both feet. “The only real prerequisite is being an effective communicator,” Watson said.

It's a great way for newcomers to learn the basic principles of the profession, which translate to a number of fields and industries, even everyday life. Watson's car-shopping story is a perfect example — especially the twist ending.

“When I was going over requirements for our new car, I mentioned I needed Wi-Fi access so I could grade student papers on the go. The salesman grew curious and asked where I taught. When I told him, he said ‘Wait, I know you. I took your course about a year ago and loved it!’”

So there they were, both using business analyst skills in different ways. “He needed to determine my requirements in order to make a sale,” Watson said, “and I was looking for the perfect car.”

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