What’s the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst?

Posted by Elizabeth Harrin

j0426542 300x300 What’s the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst?There are many roles on a project team, and two people whom you may find on your team are the business analyst and the systems analyst. So what do these individuals do and how will they help you deliver the project effectively? Let’s look at some of the commonalities and differences of these roles.

When do they get involved?

The business analyst (BA) will typically get involved much earlier on the project than a systems analyst (SA). The BA will be a key member of the project team from the very beginning, but you might not find that the team needs the contribution of an SA until the systems analysis phase.

What involvement do they have?

The clue is in their job titles! The BA is typically involved in business process work and if the project (and the company) requires it, they will also be involved in strategic level discussions about the evolution of corporate strategy or business requirements.

The SA will have more involvement in the design and testing phase and is typically a more technical role with a greater focus on how the technology solution will work in the current environment and how this will interface to other systems.

Who do they communicate with?

The role of a business analyst requires them to work with project stakeholders at all levels including senior executives. They will also spend time working with the users of the final process or system to ensure that all the requirements are adequately captured and that the end result will be fit for purpose.

The SA has a more technical role and will spend more time working with the project team to explore technical solutions. They will be interested in how the product is being constructed.

What do they produce?

A BA will produce requirements documentation and may also be involved with (or lead on) the production of the business case. There are a number of other key documents that the BA will also write or lead on including requirements traceability matrices, process redesign documentation, process maps, ‘as is’ and ‘to be’ models and others. To do this they could use bespoke business analysis software or other products such as mindmapping tools like Seavus DropMind, which could be used during workshops in the early stages of eliciting requirements for the project. The BA could also be involved in writing test scripts or test scenarios, or working with the end users who are producing these documents for user acceptance testing.

The SA will focus more on technical documentation. They would produce any data models, a detailed design, and probably input to or take the lead on writing the technical specification. They may also get involved with producing test scripts for technical testing. If the new system interfaces with other systems, there may be system documentation or test documentation around managing that too.

Both the BA and the SA will normally take responsibility for keeping these documents and models up to date. They may also look back over the previous documentation produced for other projects and make sure that this is up to date (this is a task that you can add to the project plan to make sure that it gets done). This applies to things like user manuals, wikis and the documentation used by the service desk to deal with problems when a user calls up for help.

What sort of projects can they help on?

Business analysts can help on many sorts of projects – anything that involves a business change, a process change or a change to the way someone somewhere does their job. They can also be involved with projects that focus on continuous process improvement or anything that requires a deep understanding of the current situation before a change takes place.

It is more common to find SAs working on projects with a systems (i.e. technical) element, as this is where their key strengths lie.

How do I get one on my team?

The process for securing a BA or an SA is the same as for any other resource, assuming your company already has people with these skills in house. You would want to talk to the line manager of the member of staff involved, or to the person responsible for resource allocation in your Project Management Office.

Have you worked with business analysts or systems analysts before? What benefits did they bring to your project team? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Elizabeth Harrin is Director of The Otobos Group, a project management communications consultancy. Find her on and Facebook.

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