By Carol Hammack | October 2008

When people ask me what I do for a living, I ask them how long they have to hear my explanation. All joking aside, my work as an IT business/systems analyst was one of my most rewarding positions. I held this position for many years while working in the retail industry. This position offered great exposure to many aspects of the company, working with business issues, while providing opportunities to stay close to technology. 

Life as an Analyst

At the company where I worked, the analyst is associated with IT projects. They were assigned to a project under the direction of a project manager usually for the duration of the project - from concept to implementation. On smaller projects, the analyst performed the project manager role as well. The business folks appreciated IT people that understood the business side of things. We were often called SMEs and it was an honor when the business team requested a specific analyst for a project. Also, the analyst position allowed you to be as technical as you wanted, although most of the time actual program coding was not expected. Most of the analysts, including me, migrated up or laterally from programming positions.

It was rewarding to be able to see a project through to completion. Roles ranged from facilitating requirements and design work sessions to authoring the project documents, diagramming data flows and business processes, and developing functional and technical specifications. As the project progressed, the analyst would be heavily involved in the testing phase and held roles from leading the test team to developing the test plans and scripts and in some cases performing the testing duties. Finally, as the project nears completion, the focus shifts to training plans (and training), implementation plans and turnover documentation. Upon completion, most projects were assigned to an application group for ongoing support. Occasionally, an analyst would be involved in monitoring the implementation for a period of time to provide additional support for the application group.

Skills and Expertise

As an analyst, you are expected to understand business concepts and to gain experience in multiple business areas. The analyst should be very familiar with Microsoft products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Microsoft Project. 

Training in facilitation techniques is important as this will be a large part of the job. The business/systems analyst should also understand the different types of data and process flow diagrams and be familiar with project management methodologies.  My company used Visio for process flows and diagrams and Microsoft Project for managing the work breakdown. Leadership skills will definitely give you an advantage as you are often called upon to lead a team during the different phases of a project.

Being familiar with the types of technology and technical terms used by developers is helpful and will allow you to work more effectively with the techie types. Also, the ability to use SQL will be a life-saver on some projects. This was a great tool to perform queries to check data during testing, research a problem, or to help out with a report.

It's Not Perfect...

This position is not without some challenges. At my company, these issues were usually related to understanding the position. There were many different opinions about this position and what it entailed. Some folks believed it should only be related to developing and documenting business processes. Others thought that the analyst role involved primarily taking meeting notes. 

Some analysts were very technical, while others were not. Some analysts were picky about the diagrams and documents, sometimes focusing on a type of font over the content of a document. Reviews could take hours of precious time. Finally, over the past few years, additional restrictions and controls (i.e. the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002) have come into the IT industry - reaping havoc and requiring more and more documentation.  I didn't find this type of documentation to be very rewarding and the audit process to make sure the documents are completed could be tedious and a bit frustrating.

Overall, I liked the position.  I enjoyed working with different people and in different parts of the company while keeping close to some of my technical skills.  I liked project work with the accustomed and I was never really bored!