The terms “business analyst” and “business system analyst” are often used interchangeably to describe the same job. But the two are actually completely different positions, with distinct descriptions and duties. Here, we’ll explain the differences between business analysts and systems analysts, as well as a few commonalities the two professions share.
Systems analysts utilize an organization’s IT systems to help achieve strategic business goals. They may design and develop new systems by configuring new hardware and software, or use existing systems in new ways to accomplish additional or different outcomes.
Typical tasks performed by systems analysts include:
Most employers will look for at least a bachelor’s degree when hiring systems analysts, typically in a technical field such as computer science, information technology, engineering or information systems. However, some prefer a business background combined with computer skills. Others seek industry-related experience, such as finance, telecommunications or healthcare, along with technical skills.
In general, the systems analyst job requires more in-depth technical knowledge, while the business analyst position requires a better understanding of the complexities of business problems and using technology to solve them.
Business analysts generally possess technical knowledge as well. Their main focus is identifying opportunities for improving a business’s processes and using technology to eliminate problems that affect productivity, output, distribution and ultimately, the bottom line. So, knowing how technology can solve business problems is vital to a business analyst’s success. These professionals require a high degree of specialized skills in order to solve business problems through a variety of typical job duties, including:
Becoming a successful business analyst takes a special combination of technical skill and business acumen, along with a high degree of confidence – usually acquired as a result of proper education, business analysis training and experience. Many professional business analysts break into the field by earning a degree in information technology, business administration, finance or a related area, or by working in human resources, management or finance, and then pursuing specialized training. Industry certifications, such as the Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP®) designation by the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®), are becoming more valuable, as employers increasingly demand these respected credentials.
Strong problem-solving and analytical skills, communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to focus with close attention to detail are required in both the business analyst and systems analyst professions. A business analyst needs a broad base of business knowledge and sharply honed essential skills, while the systems analyst’s skill set is more technology-specific.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts both the business analyst and systems analyst fields will expand employment in years to come – and much faster than most other job categories. Job opportunities should be excellent. Still, competition for these positions will be tough, partly because of the high salaries earned. The BLS reports that in May 2010 the average salary for systems analysts was $81,250, while management/business analysts annual salaries came in at $87,260 on average in May 2010*.
While there are some common skills and knowledge requirements between systems analysts and business analysts, the business analyst profession requires an entirely different set of core specialty skills involving eliciting, analyzing, communicating, testing and verifying requirements, plus the ability to identify opportunities to solve business problems and improve processes. Business analysts are functional experts who work for change and improvement, helping organizations reach their strategic goals through continual, successful technology improvements.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics,Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11