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.
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.