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Be the Wolf: Career Prospects for Business Analysts

A business analyst is essentially a problem solver. A good business analyst looks at the data, sees how to do things better, and recommends changes. While it's not the only skill a business analyst has, it's by far the most important.

By D. A. Rupprecht

And this skillset can easily apply to other positions within an organization. UCLA's Reporting and Analytics director David Allyn sums up the job this way, "It all boils down to finding and patching inefficiencies that cost money."

Calling on the Wolf

Ordinarily, business analysts help companies transform digitally, deal with testy shareholders, navigate businesses through bankruptcies, or even just provide guidance on logistical matters, including opinions on more mundane issues such as remote online notarization . Essentially, business analysts are really just fixers, like the Wolf in Quinton Tarantino's iconic Pulp Fiction, who helps fix a difficult situation for hitmen Jules and Vincent.

Though most business analysts don't ordinarily work with cold-blooded killers or help dispose of dead bodies, what he does onscreen applies quite well to what business analysts do on a daily basis. While following basic procedures to achieve the best results, the Wolf works to solve this particular problem by:

  • Taking control
  • Quickly identifying core problems
  • Asking questions to identify additional issues
  • Developing creative, workable solutions
  • Establishing timetables
  • Assigning tasks to deliver results
  • Communicating authoritatively yet respectfully
  • Drinking coffee

While not every such analyst will solve a problem in the same way, taking control of situations is essentially what you do as a business analyst. And this ability to solve problems requires a skillset easily applicable to leadership roles within a company.

Generalist Leadership Skills

It's not surprising that many senior executives were once business analysts, as they must think holistically, mobilizing whole departments to enact solutions that are supported through careful and thorough scrutiny of an issue. By using their wealth of knowledge regarding specific businesses or industries, they communicate plans to relevant parties in order to help increase efficiency, productivity, and profitability, all while remaining flexible to the situation on the ground.

Their role involves working across different departments, so having practical knowledge of specialized technology, operations, processes, and organization can help guide companywide decisions. With an understanding of each department's goal, an analyst can help production, purchasing, marketing, R&D, HR, and accounting all work together towards a common goal.

Types of Business Analysts

What analysts actually do, however, often gets blurred, as their job involves working with multiple departments and dealing with the systems, data, processes, and organization specific to each. As such, it's become a broad term, though the essence of the job is to optimize business processes and suggest tactics to achieve the best results. Sometimes these people will work for the companies themselves, while other times their work will be outsourced. For example, you can categorize all these job titles as business analysts:

Business Consultant: Using an extensive knowledge base of an industry, consultants advise businesses on strategic movements, identifying best practices and trends to keep them competitive. Most often outsourced, companies like Gallup (for whom I've worked), Hitachi Consulting, and McKinsey & Company all offer their services as business consultants.

Marketing Specialist: Working with end users, they identify market trends and competition as well as help promote products and services for businesses. While often outsourced, advertising agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi or Ogilvy, though smaller and arguably more agile digital agencies are quickly filling this role for smaller and mid-sized businesses.

Product Manager: This position helps companies focus on the products a company produces, overseeing their functionality, launch, and relevance in relation to competing products. Often an industry-specific and in-house position, many business consulting firms also assist companies in this regard.

Requirements Manager: They help develop, optimize, and manage complex software systems and processes for businesses, helping companies meet their technological requirements. This is often an outsourced position requiring considerable experience with software development, for which companies like IBM or Blueprint provide both software and support.

System Analyst: Also concentrating on specific requirements for business software, the main role of these analysts involves translating a company's business requirements with its IT needs. These are often in-house roles, though like most analyst positions can also be outsourced.

While business analysts tend to have their own specialties, they all usually have considerable general knowledge concerning the workings of the industry in which they work, making them ideal candidates for C level positions.

Beyond Business Analysis

The skillset needed to be a good business analyst is the same as that needed for executives within a company, including and perhaps especially the position of CEO. Good business analysts within a company are important assets, and as such are impactful to a company's performance. Considering the importance of business analysis, it's not surprising that many analysts eventually are chosen to sit at the executive table.

According to John Simpson – Jama Software's director of customer outreach and marketing – business analysts are the "shepherds of innovation." Which ties this all back to Pulp Fiction, with the hitman Jules stating in the final scene, chronologically following the Wolf's successful mitigation, "I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd."

Evidently the Wolf – that legend of business analysts everywhere – made an impression on him…

Author Bio: D. A. Rupprecht is an internationally-based freelance writer who writes about a variety of business-related topics. Sometimes he writes books.

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