Bridging the Gap

Demand grows for liaisons between tech, business sides.

What do you call an employee who works with a companys top brass to define a business problem, collaborates with departmental staff to hammer out the requirements and helps the IT crew determine the best technology to use to solve it?

Increasingly, this employee is likely to be tagged "IT business technologist" or "IT business analyst." But whatever the official title, these workers are also called "in demand."

In the last year, business technologists typically pulled down annual salaries well above $100,000, according to the latest "Quarterly IT Insider Professional Salary Survey Report," released by Foote Partners LLC, a New Canaan, Conn., consulting company that follows IT salaries and bonus pay (see chart below). Bonuses for business technologists nationwide typically range from 7 to 15 percent of salary, according to the Foote study.

Just what is an IT business analyst? In general terms, an IT business analyst acts as a liaison between non-IT employees who have a business problem to solve and the IT department, which is charged with finding the solution. Ideally, an IT business analyst is both tech-savvy and a great communicator because these two sides of a company often speak very different languages.
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In addition to defining business problems, IT business analysts must be able to collaborate across divisions to build consensus about requirements, apply metrics and perform modeling to work out solutions, experts say.

"Its like a little bit of what lots of IT people used to do," said Tina Joseph, director of sales at B2T Training LLC, an Atlanta-based corporate training company that has specialized in training business analysts for 10 years.

The title of IT business analyst isnt new—nor is the job description. But, say experts such as Joseph, the role is growing in importance in this era of bare-bones IT budgets and sky-high cost-cutting pressure.

Increasingly, as companies realize their survival might depend on it, theyre moving to foster communication and collaboration across departments to get the best possible business/IT solutions—and to avoid project failures.

Traditionally, IT business analysts reported through the IT side of the house, but increasingly, theyre operating from the business side.

How does an IT pro become an IT business analyst? There is no widely accepted training or certification program for IT business analysts—perhaps because their duties vary from business to business and even from project to project. However, specialized training is available from a range of vendors, some of which also offer proprietary certification.

For example, B2T Training (www. b2ttraining.com) and Northeast Training Group Inc., of Chestnut Hill, Mass., (www.northeasttraininggroup. com) offer business analyst certification that can be geared for IT professionals.

Perhaps not surprisingly, such training programs are beginning to attract a wide variety of professionals. As recently as two years ago, 90 percent or more of prospective IT business analysts came from the IT side. However, current enrollment in such programs is now a mix of IT pros and businesspeople, according to Joseph.

Whether they enroll in a formal training program, IT pros pursuing a business analyst career path should concentrate on developing skills that technology-driven people typically arent known for—"people skills," said Sue Goldberg, president of Northeast Training Group. These include business communications, interviewing and presentation skills, Goldberg said.

Familiarity with products that business analysts often use—such as business modeling and metrics gathering and reporting tools—is also useful, said Joseph.

If youre ready to take on the challenges of defining, developing, communicating and delivering technical solutions to business problems, better sharpen up your communications skills. Tech-savvy diplomats are in short supply.

But dont expect to begin solving companywide problems overnight. Like many other positions, entry-level IT business analysts have to earn their stripes before they get more strategic assignments, said David Foote, president and chief research officer at Foote Partners.