Seven Trends for 2007 - InformationWeek

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Seven Trends for 2007

Kicking off the new year, we're going for seven trends that represent the kind of moving and shaking in business and IT that will have repercussions beyond just the next release. Forget the little stuff--we're talking tectonic shifts.

2. Designing for Agility: Business Analysts Step Up. The role of the business analyst has emerged as a focal point for enterprises trying to wring more out of their automation-technology investments. The business analyst has always been a key player in identifying and articulating business objectives to IT and bringing projects through to completion. But there are new factors changing not only business/IT alignment, but also the role of the business analyst.

Ironically, outsourcing is feeding a frenzy to bring aboard more analysts. The experience of outsourcing IT has taught firms their technology-project specifications were in much worse shape than they believed. When companies would deliver specs to outside firms and individuals who didn't have deep experience with their existing automation solutions, the knowledge gaps became painfully apparent. The solution has been to re-emphasize comprehensive specs that leave no room for interpretation of the desired business behavior but to leave decisions about IT implementation to the outsourcer.

What does this mean for business analysts? Companies are looking to analysts to lead them into the Promised Land of business agility. The analyst role is evolving into something more akin to what we would think of in the consumer-products field as a product designer. This shift puts the business analyst in the vanguard of many organizations' efforts to differentiate by reducing the time it takes to complete a development cycle and deliver design refreshes quickly.

Thus organizations are changing their thinking about the business-analyst role and the tools he needs. (See the "Debriefing" with business analyst Denise Birdsell on page 24.) Business analysts must be able to design a complete business specification without connection to any particular IT implementation. This is equivalent to what manufacturers did to enable themselves to construct computer-based product simulations before ever having to cut a single piece of material.

Thus, organizations are in the process of changing their thinking about the business analyst role and the tools he or she needs. Business analysts have to be able to design a complete business specification without connection to any particular IT implementation. This is equivalent to what manufacturers did to enable themselves to construct computer-based product simulations before ever having to cut a single piece of material.

Tools for this new role are either available or on the way. These include business process management and business rules management platforms as well as sophisticated, business-level modeling tools based on standards, such as UML (Unified Modeling Language). These tools and platforms make it possible for the analyst to model requirements in business terms and then execute directly from those models.

A key development to watch will be the growth in adoption by tool vendors and user organizations of the Object Management Group's BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation). And as Executable UML becomes more prevalent, we should see the emergence of virtual execution environments, which will let organizations model an automation solution from soup to nuts, then execute it.

But tools alone won't empower business analysts to step up. Organizations must build expertise and establish a common skill set that supports the goals. Not until recently has there been any kind of trade organization to define and champion the business analysts' new role. The International Institute of Business Analysts is emerging to fill that void. The institute is developing a certification program to give business analysts a formal path for professional development and define a common body of knowledge so that organizations can set expectations for this role.

The transition will require other organizational changes, and a difficult decision: Does this role belong on the business side or within IT? The struggle with this question reflects the deep divide that exists between these two sides in most organizations. But as businesses realign themselves to focus energy and resources on innovation, the importance of the business analyst role may force them to finally settle the business/IT divide.

Neal McWhorter is principal at Enterprise Agility, which helps organizations transform their business goals into business solutions. You can write to him at [email protected].

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