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Market Forces

Hiring? Make Sure To Get a Business Analyst

Technology pros may still be the core of your partner business, but you need a BA who can translate technology into real terms that business users understand.

Partners making the transition from technology services providers to business technology advisors need a new set of skills to deliver process-focused consulting. For many, it's the role of business analyst that's taking the lead, changing the focus of client conversations from technology to processes and outcomes.

As line-of-business and departmental managers take more control over IT projects, from purchasing to design, the conversations are different. These decision makers are looking to solve a business problem, not buy a technology solution. While partners are in the best position to provide the supporting technology services that solve those business problems, they often don't have the people who can talk to clients in business terms.

The Role of Business Analyst
The titles and terminology around technology advising roles are still developing, from solution designer to product owner to functional consultant, but business analyst (BA) seems to be the most common. The BA role usually encompasses some combination of technical- and business-process expertise plus communications skills. More specifically:

  • Technical knowledge that's product- or platform-specific, like SharePoint or Dynamics CRM, but in the best case the BA is familiar with the whole Microsoft/ISV technology stack.
  • The same goes for business expertise. The BA has specific functional expertise, like sales process or retail operations, but takes a holistic view of the entire operational processes.
  • The big differentiator comes with communication skills. A good BA must act as the translator between the technical minds and the business users. Styles may vary, but the fundamental ability to listen, understand and communicate to others is essential.

You may have people on staff who can fill the role of or develop into a strong BA. But trying to force a square peg into a round hole is bound to end poorly -- for your clients and for your employee. The role has become too important to try to get by with the folks you have if they don't fit the bill.

Hire Agents of Change
Developing talent within the organization or hiring the right people to fill the role of BA is a top priority for partners today. And it's a challenge trying to define and hire for a role that's changing as we speak. Christian Buckley, managing director for Americas at GT Consult, has written extensively about the changing roles in the technology field. In looking for the people who can fill strategic consulting roles, Buckley says, "We need people who are thinking about change and how they can deliver value during that time of change."

Buckley, an Office 365 MVP, recently wrote a blog post, "Hire People Who Tell Great Stories," about his approach to hiring the people that can add the most value to your clients. Buckley said, "I was talking to a friend last night about the interviewing process, and how a candidate he spoke with was able to quickly relate several dry, functional, task-related questions to a great story about a project he led that ended up a turnaround success. By taking a work experience and expanding it into a broader narrative, this candidate had given my friend a clearer picture of the context of the problem, and how he (the candidate) participated in the solution."

Because your clients are trying to make changes to their business processes, it makes a world of sense to hire people who look at the world that way -- people who see technology as a means to an end rather than as "the solution." Far too many IT projects of the past have forced business processes to conform to out-of-the-box products.

Technology professionals may still be the core of your business, but you need to have a BA who provides the perspective to incorporate the technology into real terms that business users understand. As technology moves to the background, partners need to have the people who understand and speak the language of business process and outcomes. The role of BA, providing the two-way translation between the technical minds and business users, is fast becoming an indispensable role for your organization.

How are you adapting your internal roles to better serve your customers? Send me an e-mail and let's share the knowledge.

More Columns by Barb Levisay:

About the Author

Barb Levisay owns Marketing for Partners, a marketing and service delivery leadership firm for Microsoft Dynamics, SharePoint and ISV partners. She serves as the event chair on the Board of Directors for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners.