The technology imperative- the increasing importance of the Business Analyst role
The view that merely implementing technology is sufficient to produce improvement is not a new one. In Leadership for Results, the example of Trist and Bamforth's unsuccessful attempts to introduce give-and-take into the implementation of new technology in coal mines, in spite of the proven superiority of the results of give-and-take, provides us with a cautionary tale.
The most numerous examples of failing to use the give-and-take are the many Enterprise Resource Planning implementations in the 1990s that not only over-ran timescales and budgets but failled to deliver the benefits identified in the business cases (which were usually calculated based on the results of companies that had followed give-and-take).
It is this history of failures that has prompted the current move in organizations of all types to implement the Business Analyst (BA) role inside their organizations with some urgency, as people at the top of their organizations show signs of cutting off the supply of dollars for I.T. because they are tired of systems that don't deliver.
Why is this ? Well lets look at what is supposed to happen.
The practitioner's rules for using give-and-take in the implementation of technology are simple and widely known
1. Forget systems for now - what is it you are trying to help your customer to do? This gives the end result and process requirements
2. Given these results and requirements - what does your process need to do to ensure that this happens error-free every time, and how do you measure that? This gives the high level process definition.
3. Given this high level process - what do the systems need to do, the staff need to do, and the organization structure need to look like in order to optimize the performance of the process? This gives job requirements, system requirements and organization requirements.
While project management and systems development methodologies can help in assessing risks and keeping plans on track, it is leadership behaviour that ultimately makes the difference.
One implication of the third step is that in order to optimize performance, the people, technology and structure must be simultaneously optimized. This means that options must be still available at the time that the decision is made as to the part each will play.
Now people may say that state-of-the-art technology has many, if not all, of the configuration options likely to be needed, so there is no reason to delay the purchase. But trying to figure out which way to set it up after it has been purchased and a structure and staffing in place, with the system about to go live is the worst possible environment in which to decide those crucial trade-offs.
It is this reality that makes the role of the Business Analyst so vital to organizations today, not to write documents for programmers to follow, but to provide and support leadership behaviour to ensure that the right decisions are taken in the right order.