Buying or licensing a software application is a common approach to improving a business process or solving a problem. A vendor provides ready-made software and supports ongoing updates. Do business analysis professionals need to write requirements or even analyze these solutions?
YES, business analysis professionals add value to vendor packages in many ways. An organization that chooses to use a solution created and maintained by an outside vendor can be an important strategy with a long-term commitment and involves many costs and management concerns. Analysis is needed.
As a business analysis professional, here are the analysis activities needed.
Choosing an application.
How does your organization choose applications? Hopefully you analyze the business need, just like any other need, and document the objectives and expected benefits of a solution. There are often multiple apps which will claim to solve your problem, do they? Business analysis includes writing business requirements, writing vendor evaluation criteria, comparing apps, and conducting gap analysis – which of your needs will not be met by the app. Unfortunately, many organizations skip this important activity and decide to use the first app they discover, or the one with the best sales pitch. Choosing the wrong app usually results in higher costs and often locks the organization into a process that doesn’t best meet their needs.
Many apps are very easy to install. Simple mobile apps may be free, downloadable in seconds, and allow you to start using them right away. Why do we need analysis? There are several important considerations: how will existing data be loaded into this application? What are the ongoing costs? How will users access the app? Is the app redundant with existing functionality in the organization? Large, enterprise applications often require months of work to configure and load with company data. These activities requirement significant analysis and requirements management.
How many applications work on a completely standalone basis in your organization? Fewer and fewer. When we decide to use an app, analysis is needed to identify related apps and processes, shared data, and business rules. Interfaces between systems are getting easier to build (using APIs or services) but they still need to be analyzed and requirements need to be developed. There are security issues, data migration and sync issues, and often redundant processes in different apps (which one should we use?).
Most applications involve data and most data is reported on at some point. Does your vendor provide a reporting tool with the app? Does the app allow for external reporting tools to access the data? What reports are delivered with the app? Rarely does an app provide all of the needed information to its users, and may not present information in the format needed. Report requirements are complex and needed by people who write queries and build dashboards. Note: Many of these requirements will be revisited during every major upgrade so these requirements are reusable. Taking the time to document requirements saves time on every software version upgrade.
How does your vendor deliver upgrades to the application? When, why, and what is included? For apps with many users, change management can be significant. Is the underlying data model being changed? This can affect reports and queries which have been built on the old version. How will interfaces be affected? How much testing is needed before an upgrade can be signed off by users?
Sunsetting and Replacement.
Can your organization just turn off an app and stop using it? Few can. Detailed analysis is needed, especially on applications which have been in use for a long time and contain a significant amount of data. Few people in the organization may be aware of all of the ways an application is being used and the interfaces which have been built to access it. When replacing the app with another, data migration is a major analysis activity with detailed requirements mandatory for making sure valuable data is transferred correctly.
Analysis is Always Valuable
We all use applications, packages, apps. And many of them are great solutions to our problems. Analysis is always required to make the best use of an app. Organizations that don’t assign business analysis professionals to this important work are often unhappy with their decision and the solution is less than optimal for their stakeholders.