Business Analyst or Information Architect?

Which way to go?
Information Architect or Business Analyst? Which way to go?

This post from Paul Culmsee at Cleverworkarounds.com tapped in to something that has rattled around my head for a while.   My career aim is to work as a Business Analyst in software development.  I pursued this role whilst still in my old career as I understood that the BA role most closely fulfilled the idea I had of being a bridge between the business and technology.  Not that being the business-IT bridge was an original idea, but it was the basis from which my new career direction has sprung.  As my knowledge has grown and I have moved in to a semi-BA role (I say semi because half of my role falls under customer service and training), my horizons are expanding and so has my confusion about where the BA fits in to a project and the role they play. It seems the simple answer is that the BA role is however that particular company, or project, defines it.  There are common threads of course, the requirements gathering function being the key one, but other tasks and responsibilities float around the position, liable to be cherry picked from organization to organization, project to project.  These include PM responsibilities, testing, product strategy and many more.  The question I am throwing out to the blogging ether is does it stretch in to the usability and information architecture realm also?

For lack of a better description, this last month I have been gripped, reading and learning about usability, user centered design, user experience and information architecture.  As mentioned before, my Interaction Design course at DePaul has really kickstarted this frenzy, but also in working with my friend at Booyant.com, and some possible usability testing and website analytics work I will be doing for them.  I think the user focussed and user centered design (UCD) methods are intriguing and certainly something I would like to get involved with.   But how do Business Analysts fit in with these methods and roles?

The main reason I ask is that Requirements Gathering is a key part of UCD, as it is for BA’s, so are there BA’s out there who are usability specialist BA’s?  Or does the requirements gathering neatly split between user requirements to the usability specialist and the business requirements to the BA?  I see how that may be possible with a consumer/public facing product but when the software is for internal use, the user is the business. Who takes the requirements then?  It also seems that the usability focused requirements gatherer takes those ideas further down the design path, creating conceptual designs and wireframes to encapsulate the requirements, rather than the BA method of perhaps mapping data flow, artifacts or business processes and documenting the requirements in a traditional style.  However use cases and stories are used on both sides……

Lets just say I am a little confused.

Which moves me on to the Information Architect role.  The idea of this position seems perfect based on my interests.  From the outside looking in, I see the role like the usability focussed BA .  It does not fall directly under the creative or graphic design umbrella of software development, so I do not need engage my non-existent artistic side, but looks instead at getting more involved in the layout and structure of the site, mapping the user requirements to software functionality.  In that way it seems like a more fulfilling, engaging and strategic position that enables you to put in to action the requirements gathering and understanding work you have done, and structuring the sites information. I particularly like this quote from The Information Architecture Institute(IAI) website:

Jeffrey Veen, Adaptive Path and author, The Art And Science Of Web Design
“I’ve found information architecture serves business as a development process as much as a discipline for structuring content. IA demands a clear understanding of how content can connect customer goals with business objectives. And regardless of medium, that’s the definition of success.”

I love this idea, but as I said I am on the outside looking in, and as Paul Culmsee’s post says, the name of a role can be little more than group of people getting together and forming a club.  So is what I described anywhere close to what an Information Architect does?

My research will continue, the Information Architecture book from Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville seems like a good place to start and there is a good reading list on the IAI website, but any suggestions and input will be gladly accepted.

Help me if you can.

Thanks for reading.

Business Analyst or Information Architect?

Mobile User Experience Design

Motorola-CLIQ
Motorola-CLIQ

Last night we had a guest lecturer, Alfred Lui, in the HCI: Interaction Design course I am taking at DePaul University as part of my Masters in Business & Information Technology program and it was FASCINATING.  Alfred is a Sr. User Experience Designer at Motorola in the Mobile Phone area, and worked on the Cliq you see in the picture.  It was really great to see someone who has built a career focussed on creating innovative and exciting user experiences with consumer products.  Particularly mobile products which is such a buzzing area, with a lot of innovation as everyone scrambles to be the iPhone destroyer!

His lecture was on Emotions in UX Design, and I will not re-hash his presentation and devalue the message.  However I was intrigued by his discussion of work from Ravi Chitturi’s research about Hedonostic and Utilitarian trade-offs when purchasing a product.  He discussed how, if you buy a product because it is cool but only quite usable, but definitely very cool, it results in happy, joyful emotions.  You may even brag to your friends or blog about the experience.  If it turns out that it is NOT cool the emotions are more likely guilt or anxiety at having spent money unwisely, or because you were tricked in to an incorrect purchase by superficial bells and whistles.  Whereas with the utilitarian product with a usability focus, if that does not live up to these high expectations of usability and utility, the emotion-meter can swing quickly to anger and displeasure.  It just did not do what it said on the tin (you need to be from the UK to get that link reference 🙂 If the product is usable and satisfies it’s utility objectives, then you will be pleased no doubt.  However will you brag or blog about that experience?  Will that product command brand loyalty in an economy brimming with new products and ideas?

This is what fascinates me. We need designers and innovative people to push a product or consumer space forward in to a new realm.  But a basic usability study, or a Business Analyst speaking to users and stakeholders, gathering requirements, will be naturally blinkered by the users own blinkered view on the product space.  To create passionate and engaging products, be they physical or digital, you must be prepared to risk usability and requirement requests, in pursuit of something beyond what could possibly be achieved by sticking to the obvious.

What an awfully tricky, but exciting line to be on!!

This course has really opened my eyes to the world of usability, user centered and user experience design, and I have to say I am hooked.  It feels like an area I am already passionate about and I am only just scraping the surface.  A novice looking in to a new world.  I am now looking at how the Business Analyst role ties in with usability teams. Do they work together, or can a Business Analyst be directly involved in this area?  Particularly in small companies where the budget does not stretch to a BA and UCD expert.

I have been talking with my good friend Jan Booy over at web design agency Booyant and I will be getting involved with some basic web usability tests, so more blogging to come on that soon.

Thanks Alfred!

Mobile User Experience Design

Why business analysis?

I just read this article in Wired (love that magazine) and it got me all jazzed up and for a few minutes I couldn’t understand why. But then it dawned on me, it taps in to the very reason I sought out the role of Business Analyst even before I knew the role existed.

The article talks about the internet revolution resulting in a “good enuf” or lo-fi mentality. In particular it sites the MP3 revolution of the music industry. Music insiders scoffed at the thought of a lower grade music format when the whole industry had been striving for excellence in this area and was happily wallowing in the superiority of CD quality sound over vinyl. But the MP3 music file turned everything on its head. It tapped into an unknown or at least overlooked critical requirement of the music consumer. Shareability. All of sudden these inferior files were changing the face of music. One of the company’s that first realized this ground shift in user requirements was Apple and I can certainly argue that the very reason I am able to type this blog on my iPhone is because of the success of Apples MP3 business, iTunes and iPod.

This is what fascinates me about the BA role and why it is so important. Without a business focussed technology advocate committed to probing for user requirements the product can just end up being the baby of one of the internal groups, the developers, the designers/marketing or the business. Either way the most important group has been missed, the user. So unless you have someone pushing and asking the right questions you may just be missing an MP3/iPod type game changing product. That is what excites me about the BA role and why I think it is such a fascinating area, especially Agile methodologies and user centered design which I am learning more about now and will blog about soon.

Why business analysis?

Life change and blogging return

Ok so I am officially a bad blogger. Terrible in fact. My idea of tracking my learning experience in business analysis has been thwarted by a combination of workload and life changes. But I am now the proud father of a 5 month old boy, Owen, who is the light of my life and I wouldn’t swap any time I have spent with him for anything.

Owen StandsThe job has been a challenge. Following training last year I was assigned 2 accounts for a go-live in January 2009, and one of them was an absolute nightmare. Both the people, who were obnoxious, bitter and just angry, as well as the role I had to play which was to be a subject-matter expert in a field in which I had no hands-on experience! Difficult to say the least. But I battled through, both went live on time and successfully, and I learnt a lot. I then was swept in to my next 2 accounts with a April start and my son was born April 18th, so it all just got a little messy.

But here I am, September already and I have hit my stride so I intend to return to this blogs objective and document my thoughts and learning experiences regarding Business Analysis. Watch this space, but maybe don’t hold your breath 🙂

Life change and blogging return