So you want to be a business analyst?

For Elizabeth David, who has worked as a business analyst for nigh on 11 years, the learning never stops.

"It's always different. No two days are ever the same. Opportunities surround you and you can learn about anything and as much as you want to learn," she said, laughing.

"You're learning on the job constantly to keep up with IT changes and new directions, what the business is up to and what other companies are doing. But that's what's exciting!"

Currently an e-business analyst in IT at AMP, David moved to e-business after a stint at an insurance company where she understood all the processes, methodologies and procedures of a stable mainframe system.

David says she was seduced by the hype surrounding e-business and the Internet and enrolled at the University of Technology Sydney with the sole aim of moving into this area.

"E-business is more fluid than the mainframe [world]. Things happen very quickly," she said.

A business analyst straddles the world of IT and the business, David said, adding that excellent communication skills are critical. It was this element that first attracted her to the role.

"When I first started, I wanted to be able to liase with various people in IT and understand what they were talking about; to talk to management and have the ability to discuss anything with anybody at the appropriate level," she said.

"A business analyst is a medium between the two groups. That's why communication skills are so important. A business analyst talks to business in terms they understand. Likewise, with IT people, a business analyst needs to be very specific and converse in the language that helps IT people understand [the business need]." Business analysts need to show a good understanding of the business requirements and an ability to interpret these to define technical solutions. That lets them develop specifications to a customer's requirements and write functional requirements for IT people at a very detailed level.

"The business analyst forms a crucial link between developers and business," said Martin Nicholls, Australasian practice director for technology at TMP Worldwide. "Central to what they do is being able to think outside the box. A good business analyst should be able to understand the consequence of not getting it right and be able to translate [the collated data] into a user specification of some description."

To be a business analyst, you need to love working with detail and enjoy specifying down to the nth degree for certain people, especially technical people.

"You need to be thorough and methodical because you can't afford any holes. Never assume anything," David said. "Analysts should also enjoy working with people because you meet many, from all aspect of business, every day."

Apart from being able to communicate, and play translator, some companies require an e-business analyst to be able to play with the tech toys too.

"Different companies see business analysts differently. Many see the business analyst as more of a documenter. But, in my role, there is a lot more hands-on stuff. I get involved with the system, and query it to understand the ins and outs of how it operates. I like that."

The pressure can be huge, David says.

"There's a big expectation within IT to deliver on time and within budget. In working in e-business or in e-commerce, there is even more pressure that you can do all of that. That's part of the buzz as well. It's exciting," she said. "It gives you a great sense of satisfaction when you deliver a system to the customer that is what it wants, better than what it asked for."

According to recruiters, business analyst experience is normally gained either within the business or by moving through IT into more business-focused roles.

Salaries vary, commensurate with experience. Generally, a business analysts can expect to earn within $65,000 to $125,000 a year. Typical entry salary is within $40,000 to $50,000.

Some IT business analysts work on complex, multimillion-dollar projects, so the potential salary package can be quite significant, according to Nicholls.

Tasks of a business analyst

The main tasks of a business analyst, according to Lesley Bishop, associate director at IT recruitment specialist Michael Page Technology, include:

* Liase with key stakeholders to deliver solutions.* Produce business requirement documents that can be used by IT to create technical specifications* Coordinate the business requirements through the implementation of the project* Improve business processes by using process measurement techniques to identify opportunities for improvement* Assist nontechnical staff to design test plans* Participate in testing.

Skills and experience

IT business analysts need:

* Excellent communication skills

* Fine attention to detail

* Quick thinking

* Technical report writing

* IT knowledge

* University degree

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