By Spurgeon Thomas
There is no clear answer to the differences between the three roles. The nature of being a liaison between business stakeholders and technical teams tends to require many overlaps of expertise and responsibility.
In 2001, after four years of service in the U.S. Navy as an Information Systems Technician, I joined Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) as a Systems Analyst. I supported the enlisted sailors responsible for the role of system administrator on all U.S. Naval ships in the Pacific Ocean. My days were never the same. I never knew what type of ad-hoc query for system troubleshooting would be on the other end of my desk phone ringing.
Once, I received a call on a Friday that a ship cruising off the coast of San Diego lost their supply management system. Usually, I would just telnet into their system and work remotely. Due to super-secret firewall restrictions, I was forced to visit the customer. I crossed the Coronado bridge, boarded a military helicopter, and flew over the ocean to troubleshoot the ship.
I loved the variety in my day. Sometimes, I drove to the pier, boarded a ship, and fixed their malfunctioning system of Windows networks, Unix platforms, and network connectivity. Other times, I trained users in our lab on how to troubleshoot their particular system configuration. I taught basic HP-UX commands in a three-day seminar. I boarded anti-ballistic submarines, frigates, aircraft carriers, and destroyers. I discovered how claustrophobic I was on those tiny crawl spaces of submarines.
After finishing my degree from San Diego State University in Business Administration with an emphasis in Managing Information Systems, I left SPAWAR and went to work for First American Credco (now CoreLogic) as a business analyst. I changed from the Department of Defense industry to the Financial Services industry, troubleshooting connected system components and documenting the communication between teams. My role morphed to eliciting business requirements for a complex system that pulled data from the three major credit bureaus and merged them into a proprietary scoring and decision system. A few years of Financial Services experience eventually lead to me becoming the Lead Business Systems Analyst of the Loan Originations department for Fair Isaac Corporation (FICO), the creator of the FICO credit score.
My current titles at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are Project Manager and Business Systems Analyst. The flexibility of team building, business acumen, and technical understanding helps me to wear multiple hats. I would sum my current role as using communication and technology to solve problems. As an agile practitioner, I mainly work to remove the obstacles that prevent my teams from achieving our timed delivery of technical solutions to complex business problems.
My experience defines these three roles as:
- A business analyst elicits business requirements to be used to build technical solutions.
- A systems analyst specifies system specifications and ensures the components of a system play well with each other.
- A business systems analyst elicits both business requirements and technical specifications, providing problem analysis and solution delivery.