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In search of the elusive business analyst

While SOA promises to be business friendly, it still lies in the hands of IT staff and not the new hybrid, tech-savvy business analysts.

We've all come to realize that SOA makes a lot of sense.

It also makes a lot of promises, some more genuine than others, but perhaps the most fundamental promise SOA has made is empowerment of the business user. As the story goes, SOA transforms application development from a complex and mysterious black art—the likes of which most understand little about—to a relatively nontechnical process that the rest of us can get our heads around. The conventional argument says that this shift from coding to composition makes organizations more agile and adaptive by decentralizing application development and putting the power in the hands of the lines of business. After all, an application is no better than its requirements—and who understands requirements better than those who experience the pain and live with the need?

This is a large part of the promise that drove the first wave of SOA investments. Organizations loved the idea of putting an end to the nettlesome IT bottleneck while empowering lines of business to innovate with wild abandon, disrupting markets, reinventing business models, winning customers for life and leaving competitors in the dust. Anyone who thinks SOA is about cost control is missing the point. The promise driving today's SOA investments is nothing short of business transformation. Heady stuff, huh?

The idea was that application development would move out of the back office and into the corner office. Well, maybe not quite the corner office, but the intention was to shift the burden from programmers to business analysts who knew more about the business problems, if perhaps a little less about math.

Suddenly, the application development environment wasn't just the IDE: portals, composite application frameworks and mashup platforms became the composition environment for SOA-based applications. And technology vendors lined up with powerful tools for decentralized application development. Today, there certainly is some real application development happening outside of the traditional IDE. This is empowering stuff, shifting the focus from low-level programming work to higher level and often higher value application delivery. And this approach is delivering tangible business benefits, helping to accelerate time to market and improve responsiveness to change.

But my question is who is doing the work?

I would argue that it's not the business analyst we envisioned, but programmers themselves. Maybe not the most seasoned programmers on the roster—those folks are knee-deep in code, in that rarified world they occupy—but still usually folks in the development organization, not the lines of business.

The original intent was for the business analyst to reside on the business side, closer to business processes and business challenges than to technology itself. SOA-based approaches to application composition have certainly helped to make development organizations more agile, responsive and adaptive. But I don't think this business analyst has materialized in any meaningful way. Today, it seems to have created a stratification of development groups, rather than a clear separation of responsibility between IT and business.

Some will undoubtedly stand up and say that business analysts are widely present in the lines of business today. Indeed, they are, but in title alone. These folks are traditional business analysts, not the type that SOA predicted. These business analysts spend their time gathering requirements, documenting business processes and building financial models—not composing applications.

I'm not suggesting that this is an SOA promise broken, more of a promise deferred. As I see it, this is an evolution and the market is adjusting to meet the need. You can already see it in the curricula of undergraduate business programs, many of which are retooling to deliver increasingly hands-on technical skills to these business analysts in training, SOA application developers in waiting.

We're already seeing more hands-on technology skills in newly minted business grads. This is certainly the beginning of a new generation of talent that is likely to fulfill one of the key promises of SOA, putting power in the hands of the lines of business and enabling true business agility.

The elusive business analyst may emerge just yet.

About the author

Jake Sorofman is vice president of marketing North America for JustSystems, the largest ISV in Japan, and a seller of XML and information management technologies. Learn more about JustSystems at www.justsystems.com and contact Jake at jake.sorofman@justsystems.com.


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