The new business analyst talks SOA

* Could SOA rejuvenate your career?

Traditionally, business analysts have been subject matter experts with strong business skills and moderate technical skills. They act as translators between a business manager requesting an IT service and the development architect or engineer who will be designing it. For example, when an installment loan manager requests a loan application portal, the business analyst meets with him, helps him to specify requirements, and then translates them into high-level specifications. These specs go to the engineer, who creates a detailed design, then the finished product. If he has questions along the way, he funnels them back through the business analyst. This eliminates what would likely be a painful conversation where the engineer might just as well be speaking Arabic while the installment loan manager speaks French.

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) brings an entirely new focus to the role of the business analyst, and presupposes much more technical depth than has been necessary in the past. It presents a challenge and an opportunity to those currently in business analyst roles, and will likely offer new options to those interested in combining their business acumen with deep technical insight. Business analysts are one of "hot skills" identified for the coming decade, but a major factor that will determine marketability over this period will be technical skill sets.

SOA offers an opportunity for companies to build software assets incrementally, as componentized code packets that, once written, can theoretically be leveraged as components for composite business services. So that a date routine, for example, once written, can become part of every subsequent business service that needs to calculate a date. This is a great idea, but if a company is building business services out of lots of little pieces, somebody has to have the overall knowledge necessary to assemble those pieces into something resembling a business service. This role may well fall to business analysts.

In SOA, the business analyst assumes a much more central role than has previously been the case, but this presupposes a detailed knowledge of business processes and a good working knowledge of SOA methodologies and products. The moral of this story? If you are a business analyst, or aspire to be one, your value to the business is going to be much greater if you develop SOA skills. A follow-up to this is that we are beginning to see advertisements for business analysts with SOA skills on job boards, and there is at least one specialized Web site for those with an interest in this area.

Where do you start? Standards are big in the SOA world and a working knowledge of Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), Service Component Architecture (SCA) and Service Data Objects (SDO) is a good start. BPEL is the language designed to specify details on software component execution within an SOA work stream. SCA and SDO provide additional "glue" to facilitate this process. There is a wealth of information on the Web about SOA, including a SOA 101 overview in EMA's SOA Solution Guide. The changing role of the business analyst is one more case where new technology paradigms bring enormous opportunity, but only for those willing to upgrade their skills, then apply them in new and different ways.

On another note, EMA will be researching user perceptions about autonomic computing during the quarter of 2006. Complete our survey here.

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