Career Focus: What Employers Want from a Business Analyst

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This blog post describes trends seen in on-line job postings for Business Analysts in the U.S. from September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016. We show you the skills and certifications employers request most often in job ads, employers posting the most jobs, and other information. To do this, we analyzed on-line job postings using a tool called Labor Insight from Burning Glass Technologies. See the Methods section, below, for more information.

If you are interested in this kind of role, it helps to know if jobs are available where you want to work, what skills are most in demand, and which employers are hiring.  Once you know these things, you can better choose Master’s of Business and Science electives and professional development activities outside your academic program that can help you get the job you really want.

Traditionally, Business Analysts (BA’S) have been responsible for documenting the information technology (IT) requirements needed to implement solutions for key business problems. They act as translators, of sorts, between people who work in business operations or strategy, and IT departments. This is still largely the case for many BA roles, especially in an era when businesses are adopting new technologies at a rising rate. More recently, however, the role of some BA’s has begun to expand beyond the implementation of IT solutions, making business management skills even more important for some jobs. According to the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA©) website,

Business Analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context, by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value to stakeholders….Business analysts work across all levels of an organization and may be involved in everything from defining strategy, to creating the enterprise architecture, to taking a leadership role by defining the goals and requirements for programs and projects or supporting continuous improvement in its technology and processes.”

NATIONAL TRENDS

In the last year, employers posted nearly 47,300 entry-level jobs for Business Analysts with at least a Bachelor’s degree.  Entry level includes jobs that request between 0-5 years of experience.   

Figure 1.  Percentage of BA on-line job ads with degree majors specified and unspecified, September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                              Total number of on-line job ads analyzed above: 47,287

About half of these jobs – 23,784 - included data on the specific degrees employers were looking for, as figure 1 shows, above.

The top 5 most common degree types employers request among entry-level Business Analysts are:

  1. Business Administration and Management, General (58%)
  2. Computer Science (39%)
  3. Finance (22%)
  4. Management Information Systems, General (14%)
  5. Accounting (11%) 

*Note: Degrees types are not mutually exclusive. More than one degree can be included in a job ad.

As the list above shows, over half (58%) of the job postings that specify a degree request a Business Administration degree, while nearly 40% request a Computer Science degree. The rest are similarly split between business and IT related degree types. These categories are not mutually exclusive, since employers often request more than one degree type in job ads. The mix of degrees, however, brings up a few questions. Are business analysts expected to be primarily skilled in business, in IT, or both? In talking with members of the IIBA, it appears that the answer may be a little bit of all three. According to these experts, many Business Analysts need a mix of both IT and business skills.  However, as the role of the Business Analyst changes with time, there are some positions that are more squarely situated in one camp or another. 

Employers often add multiple degree types to the same job ads and, when they do, it often suggests that they are looking for a blend of experience and education that can straddle multiple areas.  So, if the job requires a mix of business knowledge and IT know-how, the job ad may list both types of degrees as acceptable.  The employer may be hoping to find either a computer science graduates with business skills and experience or a business graduate with IT skills and experience. In other cases, the employer may have a strong preference for one skillset over the other, thus listing only business related degree types or computer related degree types.

Most BA jobs require the computer science knowledge needed to understand and document IT requirements for various business solutions.

Nearly 2 out of 3 (14,171) of the 23,784 entry-level BA jobs advertised last year that specified a degree requested some type of IT, Engineering, or Information Science/Statistics degree. About half strictly required a computer science/IT, statistics, engineering or other technical degree. The other half included those that also requested some type of business or degree (Business administration, Finance, Accounting, etc.), which suggests that these employers required a mix of business acumen and IT knowledge.  In either case, it is likely that the people sought for these jobs were being asked to perform in the traditional role of the BA – identifying IT requirements for technology projects that solve business problems.

About 1 in 3 BA job ads, however, appear to reflect the emerging demand for workers who work beyond IT projects, helping business to implement a range of business solutions. Nearly 10,000 job ads for BA’s that specified a degree requested only a business degree or something else, such as a degree in healthcare administration.

The remainder of this post focuses on the two-thirds of BA jobs (14,171) that require some type of IT, engineering or statistics degree, since these relate most closely to the degrees sought by MBS students. These will be referred to as IT-BA’s throughout the post.

Nationwide, the top 10 employers posting IT-Business Analyst jobs on-line in the last year included: 

  1. Oracle
  2. Anthem Blue Cross
  3. JP Morgan Chase Company
  4. UnitedHealth Group
  5. Amazon.com
  6. General Electric Company
  7. Ford Motor Company
  8. M & T Bank
  9. Accenture
  10. Deloitte

 

The New York/Northern New Jersey area has the largest number of jobs for Business Analysts.

Those BA job postings that request some type of IT, statistics, engineering or related degree, which we will refer to here as IT-BA’s – are most highly concentrated in the New York and Northern New Jersey area. As Figure 3, below, shows, the areas surrounding Rutgers University provide a large number of jobs for IT-BA’s.

Figure 3. Map of Top 15 Metropolitan Statistical Areas Posting Business Analyst Jobs in the U.S., September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016

Total number of on-line job ads analyzed above: 14,171

Employers seek BA applicants who have a mix of IT, Business, and Communication Skills

Business Analysis skills involving the ability to document IT requirements for business projects, appeared in 93% of the 14,171 job ads for BA’s that last year that requested some type of IT or other technical degree (See Figure 4, below).  Communication skills were requested in over half of the ads while an understanding of business processes, writing, project management, Microsoft Excel, problem solving, and SQL skills appeared in over 1/3rd of the on-line ads for BA’s.  Throughout the list, it is clear that employers seek applicants who have a well-rounded mix of business, analytical, and IT skills for BA jobs.

Figure 4. Top 30 Individual Skills Most Frequently Requested in On-Line Job Ads for Business Analysts September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016

                                                                                                            Total # of On-line Job Ads Analyzed: 14,171

BA’s (96%).  The next two sets of skills, however involve some knowledge of IT skills, including use of Microsoft, productivity, and ERP tools. Project management skills are requested in 42% of ads, while system design and implementation skills or SQL skills are sought in close to 40% of job ads.  It is clear that IT-BA’s need to develop strengths in a range of business and IT areas.

Figure 4. Top 10 Skill Clusters Most Frequently Requested in On-Line Job Ads for Business Analysts September 1, 2015 to August 31, 2016

                                                                                           Total # of On-line Job Ads Analyzed: 14,171

Applicants may need a broader understanding of business strategy to succeed in the future.

Peter Johnson, a senior BA consultant/independent contractor and Co-Chair of the Chapter Maturity Model for the IIBA, told us that, from his viewpoint, the profession of Business Analysis is maturing. As a result, Business Analysts are moving from a tactical position in the organization to one that is much more strategic. The profession has traditionally been considered an arm of information technology at many firms. “People have tended to move from jobs as software testers, IT project managers, and other jobs on IT projects into Business Analysis.”, Johnson told us. Whereas their traditional role has been to identify and implement the IT requirements of business operations under the direction of more senior managers, it appears that more companies are relying on Business Analysts to play a more strategic role. “Business Analysis is becoming more integrated with business strategy – it extends beyond IT,” according to Johnson. Managers rely on Business Analysts to anticipate digital and customer trends and to proactively – rather than reactively – suggest and implement solutions. Further, these solutions may not just be IT solutions anymore, they can include a wide range of other business solutions.

To assist Business Analysts to stay on top of these trends and to build their skills, IIBA offers programs, meetings, certifications and a new resource – the BABOK© Guide, which offers tools for Business Analysts and describes the ways that the boundaries of the profession are changing. For more information on IIBA and its many programs and resources, see:  https://www.iiba.org/

As Dr. Deborah Silver, Professor of Computer Engineering and Director of the Professional Science Master’s (PSM) program at Rutgers University, reminds us, PSM programs like the Master’s of Business and Science degree at Rutgers can help jobseekers build both their business and technical skills through an integrated curriculum. “Students interested in Business Analysis careers get access to a wide range of courses typically only offered through MBA programs, as well as courses designed to improve their IT, analysis, and other technical skills. In addition, we are always working to understand – and connect our students to – the skills most in demand by employers.”

 

CONCLUSIONS

The Business Analyst profession requires applicants to have a strong mix of business, analytical, communication, and IT knowledge.

Not just an IT position, Business Analysis requires workers to understand business processes and translate these into IT requirements and requirements for other types of business solutions.  As the national and local data from job ads, show, the top skills applicants need span a range of analytical and presentation related software packages, including much of the Microsoft Office suite, SQL, Oracle, and others. In addition, it is clear that strong business skills, such as relationship development and understanding business processes is critically important for these positions, as well. According to Dr. Deborah Silver, the Director of the MBS program, “MBS students are able to differentiate themselves in the Business Analyst job market by acquiring both strong business strategy and communication skills, as well as other business fundamentals, and building their skills in key technical areas.”

Strong business skills are becoming increasingly important as the profession evolves from an IT position into one that anticipates and provides solutions for a range of business issues.

As Peter Johnson from IIBA told us, Business Analysts are increasingly moving into a more strategic role in organizations as management recognizes the potential of these workers to contribute significantly to business development by proactively identifying IT and other trends that can affect business and suggesting novel solutions. Business Analysts are increasingly expected to identify and solve a much wider range of business problems than they have in the past. In this digital age, Business Analysts are critical partners for management in visualizing and reacting to important customer and business trends.

Resources such as the IIBA and Business Courses offered through Professional Science Master’s Programs like the Rutgers MBS can help jobseekers develop skills needed for a successful career in Business Analysis.

Given these trends in the Business Analyst industry job market, MBS students can be assured that the science and business skills taught in the program are helping to position them as strong candidates for jobs. You can also use this information to help you figure out which type of business, analytical, and IT skills you need to develop most to be competitive.  Also be sure to check out the resources and certifications available from IIBA https://www.iiba.org/ and local chapters, such as  http://newjerseyiiba.wildapricot.org/ and other local chapters, which can help you keep your skills and professional contacts up-to-date and in demand! 

METHODS

To do this analysis, we used a tool called Labor Insight from Burning Glass. It allows you to mine data from on-line job postings so you can see trends in the job market, such as job titles and skills in high demand and where jobs are concentrated, among other things. Because many jobs are posted several times in different places online, the system uses several methods to eliminate as many duplicate postings as possible (See here for more information: http://burning-glass.com). To get to the interesting information, Labor Insight breaks up all the pieces of the job description into fields that can be analyzed.

This analysis included on-line Business Analyst job postings using a special filter designed by Burning Glass to locate these job postings. We examined all Business Analyst job ads posted from May 1, 2015- April 30, 2016. To help students and other entry-level jobseekers, we limited the analysis to jobs requiring at least a Bachelor’s degree and 5 years or less experience.

While this analysis can show you important trends in the job market, there are limitations. Not all jobs are advertised on-line and not all of those on-line are captured by Burning Glass. The unstructured nature of job ads can make it difficult for the system to identify individual pieces of information effectively in some cases. So, there may be some irrelevant jobs caught in the net and some relevant jobs may get left out. Overall, however, I hope that this analysis of “real-time” jobs data gives you a basic understanding of what is in demand in your area of interest.