The number Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software options have increased exponentially in recent years. A sister of COTS, the “SaaS” or Software-as-a-Service where the commercial solutions are made available over the web, with no hosting or installation required, has made these solutions even easier to implement technically.
Here are a few of the more common COTS and SaaS applications that business analysts work with for their organizations include:
- Microsoft Sharepoint
But this is just scratching the surface. In a world where the selection of tools is virtually endless and can be configured to meet any business need, where does business analysis fit?
First, we need to come to terms with the fact that our organizations will be doing less and less custom software development. That means instead of building custom software from scratch, we will be finding tools and customizing them. The availability and flexibility of tools requires us to adapt our requirements process.
COTS Requirements: What Business-Analysis-As-Usual Activities Remain Relevant?
A project is still a project. Whether you are building custom code or buying an off-the-shelf solution, BA activities remain relevant. Let’s take a quick look at them.
Understanding the business problem. As business analysts we need to understand what problem the business is trying to solve. Nothing really changes here, except that in the process of seeing the available tools, we might uncover more problems because the solutions look so simple and are readily available. The new challenge we will face is with the variety of options available, business users will likely come to you having done their own research and know what tool they want before they even initiate a project to implement it.
Understanding the business process. As part of understanding the business problem, you’ll need to understand how the business process works today (or the “as is” business process). As part of helping the business embrace the solution, you’ll need define how it will work in the future (or the “to be” business process).
Scoping the solution. Helping the business uncover what the scope of the solution needs to be.
- What features do we need?
- What package should we purchase?
- How much back data will we migrate?
- What are the integration points with our existing systems?
Whether you are building a new solution or integrating an pre-existing one into your business, these types of questions need to be answered. And to get to the right level of detail, you’ll typically create use cases (or user stories) and a variety of data models.
A clear business process framework. Just like with any other type of project, having a clear business analysis process framework, or way of approaching a project and taking it from beginning to end, is absolutely essential.
(To take a deeper dive into the BA process framework, check out our free Quick Start to Success workshop.)
COTS Requirements: What Requirements Documents are Unnecessary?
There is one primary requirements specification that doesn’t make a lot of sense when implementing a commercial-off-the-shelf solution.
Detailed ready-to-build specifications. The system is already built so detailed functional requirements will be less important than customization requirements, business rules, and data migration requirements.
COTS Requirements: What Requirements Deliverables Become Even More Important?
Understanding the business process. With new flexibility, it means that we’re more likely to make the software work around the business process rather than the business work around the software. So that means business analysts will find themselves digging even deeper into the business process than previously, ensuring the new tools are appropriately configured or customized to meet the business needs.
Building enterprise analysis into our requirements efforts and putting in place a solid business case. In a world with so many ready-to-go solutions, the last thing we want to do is get too far into our requirements before we identify our solution approach.
Software and vendor selection criteria. Each time I look for a new tool, there are typically 5-10 good options in about the same price range. How do I make the best possible decision? As business analysts, we can help our business and IT teams make informed decisions and select better vendors and software applications to invest in.
Personally, I see some great opportunities here for business analysts. I think the best thing we can do as in this increasingly COTS environment is position ourselves to be involved in the selection and evaluation. If we are only involved after all the decisions have been made, it’s likely to limit our roles. But if we’re involved upfront, during the selection process, we’ll have the opportunity to dig further into the problem space and business process.
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