Talking with the Institute of Business Analysis

International Institute of Business Analysis’ CEO, Board Chair, and Executive Vice President, Product Management and Development on the power of the business analyst.

It is 7:15 a.m. in Australia when Michael Augello, board chair of International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), dials in for our interview. At the same time—4:15 p.m. in Canada—Kevin Brennan, executive vice president, product management and development, and Stephen Ashworth, president and CEO, call in to join the conversation. The three executives are part of a core group of leaders for the institute, which uses a wide range of information technology services to vision, innovate, relate to, and serve their global community of business analysts as they create solutions that ensure better business outcomes for organizations around the world.

Juggling time zones is par for the course for IIBA and is just one of the ways IT has become a crucial tool as the organization has globalized. The three executives gathered to share their thoughts on how technology enhances their mission to connect business analysts around the world.

The business analyst often acts as a bridge between business and IT in an organization, but because companies often see investment in IT as discretionary spending, this budget is often cut first. Likewise, when new IT projects are no longer possible, the business analysts often go with them. How does IIBA challenge this trend?

Stephen Ashworth: That’s a mistake, because a good business analyst (BA) can see other opportunities to be more effective and innovative inside the organization. Things like streamlining processes, improving policies, finding ways to cut back on unnecessary cost, or creating new offerings using existing platforms.

Michael Augello: Indeed, a strategic intent of IIBA is to let the world better understand what the BA can do—not only that they execute projects in the right way, but that they should help determine the right projects to engage. In fact, one of IIBA’s goals is to develop strategic partnerships to better deliver the value of business analysis to corporations and governments, in order to develop frameworks and standards to deliver better business outcomes.

Kevin Brennan: In 2013, Deloitte’s survey of CIOs around the world found that the number-one gap for skills in IT organizations was business analysis, including the ability to create and deliver innovation, improve business processes and efficiencies, and better align corporate strategy with execution of IT projects. These are keys that business analysts bring to where they work, and our goal at IIBA is to build on that and enhance it.

Ashworth: From an IT perspective, another goal is to develop richer, more robust systems that allow us to enhance our existing relationships, as well as build new ones around the world. Relationship management is at the core of our profession—to ensure our community not only feels connected, but that they can proudly claim their identity as a BA and demonstrate the value that they bring to their counterparts and employers.

Augello: When we apply that goal to the communities where our business analysts reside and work, those organization and nonprofits will better understand the value of IT. Likewise, our BAs will help deliver better business outcomes to the communities they serve, and leverage IT where it adds value. In turn, IIBA itself will better use IT, and our BAs in the field will be better equipped to solve real-world problems around the globe.

Even as IIBA is positioned well globally, you keep a local presence. What does that look like?

Augello: Just last week in the Australian chapter, the local branch in Melbourne hosted a professional development day, and more than 150 people attended the event. IIBA is a global organization, yet there we were as a vibrant and energetic local branch, listening to quality speakers from our own community and addressing global issues. And what was fabulous was that I, a person from their home city, was able to speak to those 150 folks as the chair of the global board of IIBA.

Brennan: I have had the opportunity to visit with people on five different continents. And I’ve learned that while many challenges are similar, there are several unique differences between countries.

In Canada, the role of the business analyst is fairly understood, but in other countries it’s an emerging role that is just starting to be recognized as a need. How do you meet these needs?

Brennan: We’ve seen demand for support of members depending on where they’re based. Members have requested customization of
IIBA’s programs according to region because people want to build the foundational elements of business analysis in their country, for their country. It’s an exciting opportunity to learn and recognize that there is more than one way to get things done.

Ashworth: Apart from the traditional international support, there are a number of engagement tools that we utilize. From an IT point of view, those include webinars, online registration, a career center, online libraries and communities, social media, and networking opportunities that allow for ongoing discussion.

Augello: As a person from the other side of the world, it often feels like I’m typing to someone just in the other room. But I still find it bizarre how I can dial into a conversation at odd hours from any number of places on a variety of devices, and continue the conversation seamlessly.

Brennan: In order to support that kind of interaction, our system is in demand 24-7. We’ve had to use tools that have allowed people to jump in as they’re available—tools that allow for communication to take place wherever folks happen to be, and at a pace that they can sustain.

How is IT helping in those efforts? What can’t technology solve for the organization?

Ashworth: IT acts as a platform for us to get our work done, as well as take information from a virtual world and turn it into relationship building.

Brennan: But one thing we have learned over the years is that while virtual tools are valuable, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings.

Augello: We have a committed global board with representation from Europe, Canada, the US, New Zealand, and Australia, and we meet face to face once each year. The benefits of that meeting carry us for the next many months, and when we see each other, we just smile and get right back to work.

Brennan: Technology allows us to communicate in ways that weren’t possible ten or fifteen years ago. When IIBA was formed, we were business analysts building something that we needed. Nobody was going to do it for us, so we made it ourselves.

IIBA has the advantage of being born in the Internet era, and many forward-thinking business analysts that want to engage IIBA’s future are young professionals who have grown up with a variety of online tools. In what ways do they want to interact with the organization?

Brennan: Online collaboration comes naturally, because our members are comfortable with it. But you have to move with the times—if we didn’t do that, we’d be relying on MySpace. IIBA’s open [LinkedIn] group is the largest one dedicated to business analysis on LinkedIn. It’s a communication platform that allows us to hear from people both in and outside our membership, which helps us understand what the profession is saying and what our community needs.

Augello: When we listen to our community, innovation happens. We’re only human, but we have 28,000 members and close to 100,000 followers on LinkedIn, and that’s an incredible amount of brainpower.

Ashworth: The groundswell of having a small city’s worth of like-minded people coming together forms an identity and develops a sense of culture. IT drives that, and there is ideation that takes us to a common denominator worldwide.

Augello: Business analysis is the practice of enabling change in an organizational context by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver values to stakeholders. Because our membership is doing this all day every day, IIBA can’t help but be a listening organization. We exist to unite a community that gets better business outcomes, so we grow and move as our BAs do, because they are our experts.