Are You on the Career Path to CIO?

Are your business analysis skills taken advantage of in your organization? Is your best work acknowledged and rewarded? Or, do you feel instead that even your best supporters appreciate you more along the lines of the organization’s secretaries than the organization’s change leaders?

I understand the feeling. One of my best supporters and mentors throughout my career still introduces me as the “one who writes out the technology spec” and although he ascribes great value to that plan and the analysis that goes into it and holds high esteem for my work, I can’t help but feel that something is missing.

Recently, IIBA VP of Certification, Michael Gladstone, was interviewed for a thought-provoking article in ITWorld Canada. “Business analysts: CIO sidekicks or successors?” What a great title and the content of the article does not disappoint.

Here’s the leading paragraph:

They straddle the worlds of technology and strategy. They often need to fight their way through office politics and organizational hurdles in order to ensure projects are completed successfully. Their role tends to be ill-defined and misunderstood, even though they are becoming ever-more critical contributors to achieving enterprise objectives.

For once, we’re not talking about CIOs.

No, for once, we are talking about business analysts. But this does not mean that it’s all fun and games being a BA. Gladstone is quoted as follows:

“Both from what I’ve seen as well as the IIBA’s position is that CIOs do not take advantage of their BAs,” he says. “It essentially comes down to that immaturity of the profession. Many organizations view their BAs as essentially everywhere from some kind of admin-type role to glorified documenters, where I sit down with you as my business partner, you tell me what you need and I write it down. People forget half of the role’s title – which means the BA might not be allowed to do actual analysis, but just what was being asked of them.”

Yes, this is starting to sound more familiar, right? We have the responsibility without the authority. Or, maybe to put it more clearly, we take on the responsibility without the license to do so or the acknowledgment from our organization’s leadership that we are the ones in the trenches making projects successful.

The article goes on to discuss the impact great business analysts have on a project, such as:

  • Validating the requirements are not only clear and accurate, but also fill the real business need.
  • Bringing up new scenarios and ways of thinking about the problem, adding to the body of knowledge about the project.

This commitment to successful projects translates to why it makes sense for the BA to be involved before the project even starts. So, instead of senior leadership deciding on a collection of projects and then assigning BAs, bringing BAs in from the start helps drive more informed decisions about the project portfolio.

(And we all start screaming “yes, yes, yes!!)

Once we start getting involved before the project, our careers might become slippery slopes in the right direction. The article ends with positing that the logical career path for BA might be CIO. The combination of people skills and technical understanding (if not know-how) is well-suited for the makings of an influential CIO who is enabling business success through the strategic use of information technology.

But you might be reading this and thinking there’s a long path between your role and CIO. And you are probably right. You might be in a specific business department and generally isolated from the holistic view of the organization. You might be buried in IT under the wing of the project manager who has the main responsibility for negotiating with stakeholders. Or, you might be taking on these responsibilities and ensuring their success, despite where your role sits on the organizational chart, but without a lot of recognition for your contributions.

If you are pursuing business analysis on your career path to CIO, start with our free step-by-step career planning course. We’ll help you get from A to BA so you can get from BA to CIO.

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  1. I’m so glad to have found this blog.

    I’ve been in IT since the late 60s – yes, that long – and I started out with the title of Procedures Analyst, after completing a BA degree in Pol Sc. I worked in the systems department of a large financial organization. The basic requirement at that time was strong communication skills. I had an internship of about 6 weeks with a more senior analyst, then I was made the lead analyst on multiple projects at the same time. We did not go to college for business analysis – actually we were trained internally by Yourdon and Yourdon, for example, and we were also sent to external courses.
    When the organization changed the title Procedures Analyst to Business Analyst, I became a Business Systems Analyst, as the business analyst was now reserved for the internists. I’ve always worked within the Systems Department as a champion for the Business Managers. I gained valuable knowledge on how the company was positioning itself, how it complied technically with various regulatory bodies and how the applications supported its vision.

    Even though I was not classified as being ‘technical’ I had the technical skills to participate in the system design of the projects to which I was assigned. The IT department has a ratio of one BSA to several technical system analysts with the BSA supporting at least three applications. Since the business unit understands why a product must be developed, and the BSA interprets this for the technical teamis, it is the BSA, not the TSA, who gains all the knowledge that will lead to a career path as Project Manager, Director, or VP. One of my coworkers went on to assume the position of senior VP – the first for a BSA.

    Over the years I attended Toastmasters to hone my communication and leadership skills and I did achieve the title of Senior BSA, Project Leader, QA leader and PM. However, after 25 years I changed companies to become one of two internal consultants in a national financial firm. After about three years I was encouraged to take the leap to become an independent consultant, performing many of the tasks that a BSA/PM does. My sound background in the BSA role enabled me to switch into telecommunications, a position that took me to work in Western Europe – even when there was a language barrier!

    As an independent consultant I’ve never had problem in finding a job even though I’ve shortened my resume! And after all these years I still have a passion for analysis and problem solving.

  2. Iam BA for the CIO of my org.
    I must tell you its one fun thing moving from integrating systems and defining enterprise blueprint and integrated systems.
    My boss who is a techno freak guy pledges his life to have more BA’s than tech guys for enterprise systems.Do i say iam blessed.
    The learning & fun part being a BA in cio is the expoure to the gamut of the enterprise applications, how they interact with each other and what business function decisions affect the system and other business functions and applications.
    But i guess the novelty fades out once you see through these systems and well versed with them like skin on u r body.
    My question to laura and all readers of this post is how do we reinvent ourselves as BA’s in CIO?

    • Amby,
      How awesome for you. It sounds like a great environment to work in! I’m not sure I understand your question – could you clarify what you mean by “how do we reinvent ourselves as BA’s in CIO?”

  3. Debbie Nichols says

    This has really helped me to understand some things. My career, probably like most, started out in Customer Service as Director of Customer Service to Project Manager to Business Development/Project management. Each one of these encompass a certain amount of buisness analysis on different levels – more with BD and PM. Analysis and close work with IT was key to my daily job. As a result of my previous career roles, I was hired as a BA at a popular LMS company. The IT department was growing in leaps and bounds and started doing more customizing for the product outside of just integrating systems. They had no formal documentation process, change management or really any kind of documentation period. I had developed an entire process and tool kit at my previous job and branded our entire PM department so that we could begin selling the service – they just needed a description and the benefits of what we were doing. I do not have development skills and my resume was very clear about my back ground. I do have a very good technical understanding. I’ve created a number of templates and documentation tools and developed something called a “guide” for those integrations we’ve productized which has saved us multilple steps and adds a more professional product look and feel to the application.

    Where am I going with all of this? Now that most of the documentation is in place I feel my boss is challanged in trying to figure out what to do with me. I’ve been struggling and we were just recently hired by a very large corporation to add a learning platform to their suite of products- so of course everybody is nervous and wondering if they are going to keep their job. One of my designated tasks is to review the design documents written by the developers – yes they write their own user type documents so you can imagine. But becuse this is a task my boss is asking developers to handle he has to let them have some “wins” if they push back on my findings which totally invalidates me and the process he instituted. I’m always getting involved AFTER the project happens. I keep asking to be involved up front, especially if they are having meetings to productize an integration. My boss and a developer work it all out; They take a look at what we have developed that is pretty stable, make some changes and bingo, they have a static product (with no user input). Its in development and they hand it to sales to start selling, with no documentation at all. Then I’m asked to write something really fast, becuase its not a project after all its already developed you just have to write it up (forgetting that there is such as thing as a document project and what that entails). Now I’m left trying to elicite details about the application functionality from the developer – my developed the stored procedures then has his developer build the application to call them . So not only do they have an attitude because they didn’t write the whole thing, they see the documentation as a secondary, unimportant piece of the project they cannot be bothered with and I’m left with bits and pieces that come up later form PM’s or SME’s and I have to keep updating the documentation. This really frustrates me becuse I am good at writing and read over and over and edit over and over and do as much as I can to ensure I never let something go with missing functionality (I now just go to them if they’ve implemented the app without the guide to get info). I am so very grateful for this site. I’ve been reading since last Wed. and have consumed so much that I am now able to articulate where I am in my job and what I need to do to get to the next level. I am taking advice to come up with some things I can do as a BA. Some of it I do anyway, but I can now frame it in such a way as to formalize the role or task(s) I’ve been doing. In todays world of APPS using browser and HTTP technology with a GUI for just about everything, I have to enhance my data skills to utlize them as part of my job or I will not fit in to any BA role the way things are rapidly changing. Thanks again!

    • Hi Debbie,
      Thanks for your comment and I’m so glad you found some inspiration here. Your situation is not uncommon as often it can be difficult to change a preconceived mindset about documentation. Change happens over time, so I’ve often found that documenting the ideal process is just the start. Implementing it takes time and multiple successful experiences. When things get busy and deadlines loom it’s all to easy to go back to our old ways because we know that even with their flaws they work…and fast.

      I think your approach sounds right on. Start finding some BA tasks you can do. Focus on pain points your manager or developers face. Be part of the solution. This might mean some grunt work in the beginning, like sitting in on their meetings and typing up the notes, but getting yourself involved in the conversation and contributing in some capacity is the first step. Once that is in place you can look to add more value and expand your role.

      I’ve had a lot of luck by just asking “can I sit in on that meeting, maybe I can be useful, if not I’ll just be quiet.” And then being useful by contributing, maybe by asking a question or offering a solution to a problem or clarifying something people didn’t realize they were not aligned on.

      I know it probably sounds like heresy to suggest note-taking as a small step on the path to CIO, but what I’ve found is that small activities like this can help people see your value and then you can just start taking on some of the more significant BA tasks. Since you spent so much time on the site, you’ve probably already seen this article, but Michelle does a nice job of sharing a story of transforming a note-taker role.

  4. Yeah, its a bigger topic for sure. I can pitch in thoughts as and when I see your posts. 🙂

    There is no formal limit set on the number of Business Consultants per se, however the transition is dictated by a formal evaluation criteria, and the mettle of the BA … if the analyst demonstrates enough traits, skills, and experience he is ready to take that one step forward; In some instances its politics and the relationship with your manager too…. sad, but true 🙂

    The BA to BC transition: Simply put, once an Analyst has done enough analysis, he/she should be ready for consulting; transition from, here is a solution, to here is the solution! It may sound like a simplistic transition, however in reality Consulting involves a totally different set of parameters, skills, and experience levels; as you may be well aware of those, being a consultant yourself.

  5. Yaaqub, These are some great insights. Thanks for sharing. Much like so many different roads lead to BA, I would bet that many, many roads lead to CIO. And, at least in my experience, there is no one “CIO job description” either… From my spotty reading CIO magazine over the last few years, I’ve gathered that the role itself has shifted in focus from IT-centric to business-enabling, but I would bet there are still many highly technical CIOs.

    I like your idea of starting from CIO and working back, at least conceptually, but I think the challenges in trying to build a bridge between two multi-faceted and ill-defined roles might be a bit too big for us here at Bridging the Gap to tackle this month! That might be something we built up to over the course of 2011.

    We are going to look at some of the moves a more typical BA can make from where you are today. Business Consultant, as you describe it, is a big opportunity for many BAs and it’s great to hear your organization has that career path. One question for you, is this a limited role in the sense that there can only be so many Business Consultants? Or, can as many BAs as appropriate be promoted into that position/role?

    Especially as we start to look at higher level roles, such as CIO, the relative ability of the role makes a big difference. Often to become CIO (or often even manager) you have to change companies, unless you happen to be in a growing company that is consistently creating new opportunities for everyone to move up.

  6. Hey Laura, Great insights, and questions. I have to agree with BAs being involved in projects before beginning a project, this idea is gaining traction in some of the projects in my company. The biggest part of the role of a BA is not just the career path leading to CIO, but its the recognition of the value that this role brings to the company in the realm of IT projects process changes, etc.

    Here are some of my thoughts:

    > Each organization has different career path defined for BAs, and at least in my organization it doesn’t lead to a CIO role.
    > The maturity, and size of an organization plays a crucial role in the definition of career path.
    > In my organization, the transition for a BA is to be a ‘Business Consultant’ (you would need a blog series on this topic along :), and then eventually move towards account management (mini-CIO).
    > One pattern to observe in this path is as the role moves further along, the focus is on systems thinking, people and expectation management at higher levels, and ability to be the thinking head behind all IT / Process transformations.

    Perhaps, a good follow up post would be to start by defining what a CIO does typically, and work backwards to see what it takes, from a mindset and skills perspective 🙂

    Great article, keep them coming!

  7. Thanks for your comment Brandon. I totally agree regarding enterprise systems. The more reading I’ve been doing lately on business strategy and even marketing strategy, the more it all comes back to integrated systems (that include technology and people). Developing a deep insight in these areas can open a lot of doors for the BA.

    And, great suggestion on taking a mentor at the executive level. I was lucky to have one for a long time and he helped me broaden my perspective and consistently challenged me to take on tasks outside my comfort zone. As I look back at how I ended up where I am today, owner of my own business, these experiences were key in building that path.

  8. Laura, great article as always. I remember the article you reference. It was very good.

    My ultimate career goal is CEO or owner of my own business, but I feel my understanding of technology (and enterprise systems) is putting me on a path that may find CIO along the way. I welcome this journey, and as I see it – it fits who I am and what I want to do.

    I would recommend taking on mentors on an executive level wherever your current position is. You’ll learn a lot about day-to-day items they are trying to accomplish and you can start building the skills to take those on.

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