Non-developer roles in nearshore development firms are commonly sidelined by burgeoning talent as graduates instead pursue the dream of becoming the next technology millionaires. But software companies rely heavily on the skills that non-developer roles require, particularly when it comes to business analytics.
Business analysts require much broader knowledge than just programming languages; they need both a technical mind and an ability to communicate ideas with non-technical clients. Translating complicated client requests into a technical language and then delivering that to developers requires a specific skill set that will be under increasing demand as corporate digital transformation continues to grow in priority.
Business Analyst Duties
Andres Gonzalez, Director of Business Analytics (BA) at Softtek, and his team have a number of responsibilities. They work on embedding business intelligence (BI) and BA into large digital transformation initiatives. They support the sales team by enhancing the products and services the company can offer. They also closely communicate with the information management, BI, and BA teams to act as the bridge between the sales and project delivery.
On a daily basis, Softtek’s BA team works on proposals and proof of concept, they perform go-to-market activities to define which solutions can be offered to different verticals, and they analyze the different technologies that customers are looking into. “Softtek considers itself as being technology agnostic,” said Gonzalez. “We will hunt down the BI solutions that customers are demanding, such as full-service analytics or mobility solutions, and investigate how analytics and big data are integrated into the IoT trends that we are now seeing.”
BA in E-Commerce
At Astound Commerce, the role is slightly different. Astound’s “solution architects” guide customers toward a solution that they need, not necessarily what they want. This includes helping customers to understand the capabilities of their commerce platforms and what can be achieved through customization. “The solution architect provides the vision for the overall solution, explains it to the customers, then works with the customer to nail down more detailed features,” said Ilya Vinogradsky, Founder, CTO, and Board Member at Astound Commerce.
Solution architects need significant technical knowledge because they are the glue holding clients and developers together, so they need to be able to speak both the business language and the technical language. This includes understanding what is possible to implement from a technical standpoint and what high-level goals that the client is trying to accomplish. “For the first two or three months, solution architects are 100% committed to a client project as they document all the details and get it ready for implementation,” said Vinogradsky. “Each sub-system of the e-commerce site needs its own specifications document and each feature needs one, so there is a lot of documentation that gets generated.”
When first agreeing to work with a client, Softtek usually starts with an in-depth assessment of the customer’s requirements. The conversations first involve what the client is trying to accomplish with the solution from a business perspective, whether that is a revenue-generating activity, a way of reducing costs, or risk mitigation. “These are the three classifications surrounding most of the initiatives,” said Gonzalez. “As long as we first have that understanding, we can then talk about how our clients are currently achieving these goals, before turning our attention to technology.”
At the initial stages of the technology phase, Softtek looks at what the customer already uses and searches for any technical gaps that might exist, while also considering any new technologies that they might be embracing. Finally, the company turns to the solution development phase, which first requires proof of concept. This is usually delivered to the customer as soon as possible in order to begin receiving feedback, start making enhancements, and creating the first version of the solution.
In the e-commerce world, data drives product catalogues and customer data, so a lot of data mapping has to take place. For the solutions architects, the bulk of this work is at the beginning of the project, but spikes again at the end of the project when they have to help the customer get the site ready for launch.
In both cases, the customer will continue providing feedback until they are happy with the final product. This approach involves a number of agile methodologies, as developers create periodical enhancements as they implement feedback.
Common Challenges in BA
As with any changes to the status quo, there is sometimes a sense of reluctance from end users to implement any new solutions. According to Gonzalez, this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome with business intelligence or business analytics projects. “In almost all industries that we deal with, if users have been using something for the last 10-15 years then they are reluctant to change,” he explained. “Usually, the best way around this is at the proof of concept stage, when we have the chance to demonstrate benefits to users.”
However, not every company faces that problem. “Generally, once a company has decided to implement a new e-commerce platform, there already tends to be an internal consensus,” said Vinogradsky. “The primary challenges that solution architects face are the customer’s decision making process and the availability of information, which is often based on the client’s quality of internal organization. At a later point in time, an executive may change their decision on a previously agreed upon aspect of the solution, causing a few problems for us.
Mário Almeida, Mobility and Platforms Director at Totvs, said that his BA teams face a different kind of challenge: translating data and customer requests into the right solutions. This includes preparing the teams to understand how to assist in a full-blown digital transformation. People in this specialty need to have specific knowledge of certain industries, as the company serves 10 different verticals. These experts are then divided into teams that exclusively serve each industry.
“The top three industries are manufacturing, retail, and services, but for all verticals we have specialized staff working on proposals,” said Almeida. “These experts combine their knowledge with engineers and data scientists to help deliver the right business intelligence solution. The company develops this knowledge in house, first bringing in the development talent and then training them in the nuances of the verticals they serve.”
BA in the Future
As digital transformation continues to be a priority for much of the corporate world, analytics and information management is becoming the foundation of this IT metamorphosis. Customers are trying to maximize their applications and data infrastructure to make them as efficient as possible, while development firms transforming their IT portfolios as they try to deliver an improved customer experience. The real catalysts of this paradigm shift are business analysts, the individuals who bridge the gap between client and developer.
The common trend across all industries is that business-driven solutions are primarily being developed for an improved customer experience, so the industry will need more of these multi-skilled business analysts as it continues to grow.