Business Analysis in an Uncertain Economy

Varying reports claim that in the current, challenging economic environment the analyst role is either the top of the tops, or teetering at the edge of a free-fall. These types of reports are interesting to read for their rationale on placement of the BA role, and can provide some valuable insights, but are certainly not self-fulfilling and less important to your own job stability/prospects than your personal differentiators.

There seem to be loads of publications recently listing the hot, recession-proof jobs. I imagine that in a tough economic environment we’d all like to hear how impossible it would be to live without us and the job we do on a daily basis. I also imagine that in many cases such reports and articles are as much intended to serve as reader-bait as they are as prescient outlooks on what we ought to be and when. Nevertheless, they make for interesting reads.

Thumbs up!

Maria @ BA Rocks! recently posted a nice read on the topic of how “recession-proof” the BA role may be. She shares a article that lists “Computer Systems Analyst” as #1 on a list of the top 150 recession proof jobs. One reason, Maria surmises, for analysts to be so high on the list is that “communication and bridging skills [are] very pivotal in the project team and [have] a big impact on the overall success or failure of a project”

Thumbs down..

On the other hand, BetterMondays cites a Jobfox study that shows Business Analysis (Research) and Business Analysis (Software Implementation) as having just dropped out of the top 25 recession-proof jobs. What’s interesting is that on the Jobfox list, Software Design/Development weighs in at #5. Also interesting is that  as late as July of this year, Jobfox had the two analyst roles listed at #8 and #9.

I’m not sure if that’s to say that the market is suddenly saturated with business analysts, or that companies are deciding to continue to design and develop hardware, but cut out analyst role. Tough to say, really.

Ann All, commenting on the Jobfox survey states:

[P]erhaps it’s difficult for companies to illustrate the value of a business analyst, when so many of them seemingly struggle to define what a BA does.

Maybe. But to me, that would seem to be more of a barrier to engaging Business Analysts if you didn’t already have them. I think that companies that have analysts have a pretty good notion of their definition of a BA and the role s/he performs.

So what?

I don’t get too high or low based on a report or two. At the end of the day, job security in any kind of economic environment probably has as much (or more) to do with individual performance and value-add on the job than it does with arbitrary “hotness” of the role in general. But, darn it, it is interesting to skim the reports and evaluate the rationale for jobs landing where they do on the various reports.

What do I think? I’ll go ahead and share my opinion of the day, but take it with a grain of salt. I haven’t done any exhaustive market research and analysis to come up with my view from the cubicle. Be that as it may, it seems to me that in a struggling economy companies will want to be extra careful up front to ensure that they have a solid business case and a clearly defined return on any new software/technology product expenditures. I don’t know how they’ll be able to afford not to. That should be a plus for BA’s that play in the “enterprise analysis” space and are really as much (or more) “business” analysts as “systems” analysts.

Now, is the BA role any more or less stable than other jobs in the IT sector at large? Probably not to any large degree. If IT spending is cut and software development stops, some shops will likely no longer be able to rationalize keeping the BA around.

In summary

To close,  my key points would be to not get too caught up in what the latest reports say, but to strive to put your personal stamp of excellence on your work. Demand for a generic role in the marketplace is something over which we, individually, have little (read: no) control. The value we provide to our companies/clients through our individual skills, knowledge, quality of work/work ethic and professionalism are the factors we do control and that are key differentiators in determining personal role stability in any economic environment.


About the Author

Jonathan Babcock is a management and IT consultant with expertise in business analysis, process optimization and solution delivery methodology. Practical Analyst is his outlet for sharing what he's learned, and for interacting with solution delivery professionals across the globe.

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  1. Cutting back on analysis is a pound-foolish economy. Boehm's research shows that good analysis capabilities can cut project costs by 30% from average, 50% from worst case, In a slow economy, ignoring that is pointing a shotgun at your foot.

  2. Nice article Jonathan. I would tend to agree that as long as project work is a priority in a company where the BAs are making a solid contribution (this might not always be the case) the BA role is no more or less safe than any other role. But when project work wanes, the challenge changes a bit and I actually posted on this earlier this week as well (see like our heads are all in similar spots!).

  3. Jonathan:

    Thank you for the insight.

    BAs would also have to do work harder at educating their managers or clients or employers on the value of good requirements analysis.

    BAs need to start making the case that effective requirements analysis is saves money in the long run (cost cutting) . So, if a firm is looking to cut costs, they should not work to eliminate the BA jobs but to keep but to utilize or implement their analysis skills more effectively!

    Thanks again for a really good article

  4. Bill:

    You are correct. Performance may not matter if you a company is downsizing without being selective.

    However, the top performers who are laid off will find it easier to get the next job, because hiring managers would be selective or more critical about hiring. This means that the top performers resume and contributions would stand out compared to others.

  5. JB, I believe you nailed it. In my exeprience with being in firms that are downsizing, no role is safe. Safety comes with being on the money making product line or wherever the company chooses to continue to invest. If you're not there, it doesn't matter much who you are or how good you are, you're not safe.

    A role doesn't make you safe, performance does, but only up to the point cuts aren't deep. In massive downsizings, which I've also lived through, there's too many people being let go to be selective. Whole divisions, departments, etc. go without regard to performance, and all the top performers get swept up with it.

  6. Kingsley,

    I wish it were that easy. There are so many variables that go into hiring that one cannot easily predict what will make one successful or not. I know far too many fantastic professionals who are either underemployed or are finding it difficult to find work to believe that just being good or great is enough in this economy.

    During these times, a good network is more valuable than being very talented. It doesn't hurt to be talented of course, but talent isn't enough. If you are great and have to rely on skulls and working through the HR screeners to get your next job, you will have a long and hard job search no matter how good you are.

    To get your next job, you have to be good at finding a job, and in this economic climate, you need to be great at it. Many people who are good or great at what they do are terrible at looking for and finding work. They are 2 different sets of skills.

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