What You Should Know About Emerging Technologies

While we might all agree that a great business analyst does not need to have technical skills, in the sense that they don’t need to write code or create software programs, in today’s world an awareness of emerging technologies and the capabilities they enable for our organizations is increasing in importance, even if our roles are “non IT.”

How Technical Awareness Will Set You Apart

At a CIO Panel put together by the Cincinnati IIBA Chapter as part of their professional development day earlier this year, the panelists emphasized again and again the need for strong business analysts to be aware of emerging technologies and how these new possibilities might impact the businesses in which they work. They painted a picture of IT-savvy business users coming to the project with new ideas and expecting the BA to be able to keep up with the conversation or perhaps even drive it into new territory.

In other contexts, I’ve seen BAs (or been the BA) with some awareness of new possibilities helping the business stakeholders break out of their rut of expecting little from IT and see into the realistic future of how to leverage new tools to improve their business process, or increase their effectiveness.

Regardless of the BA’s role of defining the solution, being aware of the solution options just makes good career sense. For one thing, it can help us hold our own in conversations with our stakeholders. For another, it can help us come up with new and innovative solution approaches to address critical business needs.

What Technologies to Be Aware Of

“Technology” is one of those terms that is just about as broad as “Business.” It can mean and include many things. When we talk about becoming more aware of emerging technologies, what, exactly does this mean? Emerging technologies could include any of the following:

  • New tools and third-party software applications. For example, if you are in publishing, the latest content management technology would be especially relevant.
  • Capabilities of custom-coding technologies (such as .NET or Java). More than a few years back, I remember learning that .NET 2.0 made a certain kind of real-time data processing fast and efficient, essentially blowing away a problem I’d worked with on a team a year earlier (coding in the 1.0 version) for months without a good resolution.
  • New technical developments related to your industry or business domain. Are there new tools or capabilities your partners are making available which will also be available to your competitors?
  • Social media applications. External technologies such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, 4Square, etc enable organizations to communicate with customers and potential customers in new ways. Because they are supported external to your organization, they can sometimes provide very cost effective ways of meeting new business needs. For example, could marketing’s new idea for a community site be fulfilled by a Facebook fan page?

Resources Available on Emerging Technologies

One of my favorite new magazines is FastCompany. This is not just a tech magazine. As I read, I learn not just about what’s new and interesting but about how other businesses are applying these technologies, gaining a blend of new business and technical ideas in one swoop.

Other resources include CIO.com (or the print magazine), Mashable.com, and Forbes Tecnnology.

And one very important resource to keep in mind is your own professional network. With so many possibilities, we can do much better if we pool our resources. Whether that means you form a small group of BAs who share emerging technologies of particular interest, attend a local professional meeting of IT professionals, or find an enterprise architect or two in your network (I’m lucky, I’m married to one) to meet for lunch on occasion and hear about the latest developments, finding a way to discuss these ideas with others will make the ideas (which might seem outlandish at times) more concrete.

I’m the biggest culprit when it comes to seeing a new technology — my immediate reaction is almost always “what would I do with that?” And the answers almost always surprise and enlighten me.

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Comments

  1. @Michelle, Nicely done building relationships with the architects. They will serve you well (and you them) in learning this new technology. I think big systems like Oracle can be interesting to learn because they have such wide applicability. You might find a future opportunity with a similar system (and your prior learning will be valued) or with the types of modules and components that you are learning about on this project. Big systems have always broadened my awareness of what’s possible.

    @Stuart, thanks for sharing the tip!
    @Christopher, Welcome to Bridging the Gap!

    @Curtis Yes, when coming from a strategic IT background, I think it’s important to water down how much you stay on that “treadmill”. In many ways this article was intended to be a sharp kick for more business-side BAs, some of whom can tend to resist knowing much about IT or who do the opposite and over-estimate what they need to know about IT. It’s definitely a balancing act. An earlier draft of this article had a section on focus because, as you say, we BAs need to know a bit of everything, so we can’t be spending hours each week learning about emerging technologies unless we want to be pure technologists.

    Thanks for sharing your list of resources. You are making me think that we should have all the featured authors add links to recommended resources on their profile pages as I’m sure many of our readers could benefit from clicking to check them out.

    Sounds like you are doing your stakeholders a great service by helping them look out ahead of the game. That “trending” aspect of emerging technologies is an interesting and challenging one!

  2. Curtis Michelson says

    Laura, as always, timely and interesting. Thanks. I have sort of a longish comment here, but you got me all excited. 😉

    As a BA who came to the trade from the technical side (various database certifications, lots of code and script writing, UI work, design, data modeling, etc.), I think I take it for granted that I can speak to stakeholders in the technically informed way you describe. But I’m usually more concerned whether I’m business savvy enough, or economically informed enough to handle the pure business speak. So, moving into business analysis has been fun for me, because I’ve had to broaden even further and be up on a lot of areas. (an OTJ MBA) And frankly, it’s a nice change, because it used to drive me a little crazy trying to always “stay up on the latest technology”. Sort of like a hamster’s treadmill, that I could never get off.

    So to your question Laura, these days, I’ve struck a balance by subscribing to a mix of blogs, which range from technical, to business, to artistic, to spiritual, to cultural. They are: Adrian’s Tech Blog (an agilista site), At Your Servers (Forbes’ Quentin Hardy who authors a column for CIO types), Awake Alive and Aware (modern integral philosophers), Bridging the Gap (of course), CoorperDotCom (great Design and UX resource), Good Requirements (Jeffrey’s site), The Shatzkin Files (Mike Shatskin, one of the most thoughtful publishing industry pundits), and The Wealth Report (WSJ columnist Robert Frank on money and the wealthy class). That’s my daily balanced blog diet. (of course, there’s Twitter, and Mashable, and all the rest, too)

    But here’s the thing. My personal goal is to find and then focus on the areas that are just on the practical side of bleeding edge and pay attention. Something like Predictive Analytics and sentiment engines fits that bill for me right now. I scan for areas that are trending, but not trendy. The trendy stuff is the already built solution, and the also-ran. It’s typically what my stakeholders have already heard of too, and they are just regurgitating someone’s else idea or solution, copy and paste. I want to stay ahead of that curve and be informed about the creative solutions that are not trendy yet, but are within practical reach.

    Lastly, just coming off a ‘BA Fundamentals’ course with Watermark Learning, I’m reminded of a comment made by the teacher Bob Prentiss: “BAs need to know a little about everything.” And he meant, literally… everything. Jacks-Of-All-Trades are very welcome here. I find that very inspiring and delightful because it keeps me mentally sharp, and humbly curious. And instead of running like a hamster on tech treadmill, I feel more like a ship’s navigator, perched in the crow’s nest, scanning the horizon for dry land and new opportunity. That’s a fun place to be!

  3. Christopher Herrmann says

    Great and timely article Laura! I came across Bridging the Gap last week via a Business Analysis subject in the Australian Computer Society’s (ACS) Computer Professional Education Program (CPEP).

    As a BA on an Enterprise Information Management (EIM – lots of acronymns to describe – phew!) project, I have had a steep learning curve on all technologies in the collaborative space, including MS SharePoint, and Social Computing technologies.

    There are so many great people “out there” blogging, tweeting, microblogging, writing articles etc. On Twitter, @mpesce is an interesting one.

    Thanks again.

  4. I use dailyrotation. It displays headlines from a wide range of sites all in one place, and you can filter the list for whats of interest to you.

  5. Michelle Swoboda says

    Laura, this is a timely and important article.
    As I am working with Oracle for the first time, this is my challenge – to understand the modules that our company has purchased, how they integrate, and what the future holds for each module that we own but have not integrated at this time.
    I am working on a relationship with our enterprise architecture team to understand how they view the world for our company.

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